ICE Drops Extreme Vetting Software Plan After Discovering No One Could Possibly Deliver What It Wants

from the we-have-seen-the-future-and-we-are-disappoint dept

It appears the concept of "extreme vetting" at our borders has been backburnered. The Washington Post is reporting ICE has scrapped plans to acquire software capable of strip-mining immigrants' social media accounts and converting this info into a RATE MY DANGEROUSNESS number. However, it does not appear the concept is being done away with entirely.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told tech-industry contractors last summer they wanted a system for their “Extreme Vetting Initiative” that could automatically mine Facebook, Twitter and the broader Internet to determine whether a visitor might commit criminal or terrorist acts or was a “positively contributing member of society.”

But ICE quietly dropped the machine-learning requirement from its request in recent months, opting instead to hire a contractor that can provide training, management and human personnel who can do the job. Federal documents say the contract is expected to cost more than $100 million and be awarded by the end of the year.

No more one-click snooping on entrants. Instead, this job will be farmed out to vendors who will probably never accidentally leak the large amount of personal data they're collecting for the government. This isn't a case of ICE/DHS realizing this isn't just intrusive but unnecessary and quite possibly useless. Instead, this is a case of ICE not liking what vendors had to offer on the software front.

An ICE official briefed on the decision-making process said the agency found there was no “out-of-the-box” software that could deliver the quality of monitoring the agency wanted.

For the time being, it won't be AIs and algos doing the vetting. Instead, it will be a government contractor doing the work, presumably using some live humans. What ICE was seeking was a mythical piece of software. It wanted a rigorous vetting system that predetermines the risk levels of immigrants at a touch of a button -- all without troubling civil liberties and/or conflicting with numerous other databases ICE controls or has access to.

There's no doubt the government can acquire something that harvests massive amounts of data. The problem is making that data useful, something even our most experienced data harvesters in the NSA frequently have trouble doing. But ICE wanted it to be more than a database of past social media behavior. It wanted the program to hand it a thumbs up/down rating on visa applicants, something that's not really advisable, if even actually possible. And there doesn't appear to be anything that fits the description.

“Have they realized only that it doesn’t exist now, which is important in its own right, or have they also recognized that this really was an idea that was built on a complete fantasy?” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning policy institute. “That you can somehow take these hugely disparate sources of information, in lots of different languages, and make a prediction about what somebody’s value and worth is?”

Content moderation, but for humans. That hasn't worked well anywhere. It usually leads to profiling, false positives, and wastes of the government's human resources, which are far more limited than its data-hauling capabilities. Extreme vetting isn't going away. It's just going be far more iterative than ICE would like, however. Visions of "Minority Report" (and for actual minorities!) have been dashed by the cold water of tech reality. Concerns about mass violations of privacy and civil liberties had nothing to do with this partial reversal of course.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 12:31pm

    Will under paid humans do a good job, or will they find the number of suspicious people demanded by their management?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 12:31pm

    Where is image recognition

    I'm ok denying entry to anyone whos ever uploaded a pic of a kabob to social media. It'll get rid of the less desirable Europeans as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 12:42pm

    'You could not possibly pay us enough for THAT.'

    Additionally, I suspect that after the Cambridge Analytica thing went public the number of companies interested in offering anything along those lines dropped sharply, figuring that 'providing software to engage in mass-collection of data from social media' might not go over so well currently.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 12:48pm

      Re: 'You could not possibly pay us enough for THAT.'

      Nope, they will just change who they will sell/give that information to and the process they go about to do it.

      One thing is for sure... it's pretty easy to fool most folks with a little smoke and a couple of mirrors.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 1:01pm

    Sounds like something that would eventually find its way into the realm of spying upon the general public. This will augment your credit score and be used to determine how much you pay for things, or worse, whether you are allowed to purchase it at all.\

    According to some, 47% of the population are getting handouts from the government and therefore they should not be allowed to purchase certain things that maybe considered extravagant and only for rich folk. We all know that number is bullshit, but what about the somewhere in the teens number that will be subjected to such silliness?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 10:20pm

      Re:

      Exactly. And potentially much worse than that.

      *This* is the real price for your convenient "free" internet services.

      I hope GDPR smashes them into a million pieces.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2018 @ 12:27pm

        Re: Re:

        "*This* is the real price for your convenient "free" internet services. "

        As if paying for internet services would magically fix any of this.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 1:24pm

    GOOGLE has just what need! "TOTAL DATA COLLECTION..."

    From a site I won't link to, not least so TD doesn't get noted. Up on Drudge now -- in all upper case -- and certainly apposite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 1:36pm

      Re: GOOGLE has just what need! "TOTAL DATA COLLECTION..."

      How much drudge could a drudge sift sift, if a drudge sift could sift drudge?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 1:48pm

      Re: GOOGLE has just what need! "TOTAL DATA COLLECTION..."

      Wow, Drudge put something in all upper case! That must be important! Drudge is certainly known for its editorial restraint!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 8:11pm

      Re:

      Yeah, Google has just what you want. Funny how that works out, eh blue boy?

      You fucking corporate fluffer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 1:57pm

    2011 called....

    2011 called, they want their primetime TV show back.

    Let me know when ICE reaches Season 4, can't wait for them to justify that crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 18 May 2018 @ 2:28pm

    it's the united police states of America

    This reminds me of something China now does, credits ... sesame... maybe?

    At least they are starting to do away with false pretenses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kal Zekdor (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 2:57pm

    Misread Headline

    ...this was not what I thought it was about.

    I thought I was going to get an article on high-assurance computing, some "extreme software vetting".

    Needless to say I'm disappointed it's just about ICE being, well, ICE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2018 @ 3:52pm

    Why don't they just go to the company that makes that encryption that can by decrypted but only if you have a valid court order?

    Problem solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 5:04pm

    This program is in the Tech Version of the Indiana Jones Warehouse...
    Right behind the good guys only back-doored crypto and next to the AI that perfectly moderates online content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 18 May 2018 @ 5:37pm

      Re:

      I'm just impressed that ICE and the companies it approached were ethical enough to admit it wouldn't work, instead of just throwing together some snake-oil "solution" and calling it a day.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 18 May 2018 @ 6:22pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah, I'd have thought for sure they wouldn't admit defeat until a decade and half a billion dollars later with nothing at all to show for it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Agammamon, 19 May 2018 @ 10:50pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I had a guaranteed military sale with ED 209 - renovation program, spare parts for twenty-five years... Who cares if it worked or not!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Thad, 21 May 2018 @ 12:11pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Nothing at all to show for it" is optimistic.

          I'd have expected ICE to do what ICE does: ruin a lot of innocent people's lives, on flimsy evidence, for no good reason, and call that success.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 19 May 2018 @ 7:51am

    More isolationism

    My cynical interpretation of this solicitation is that ICE is looking for software that will dig and dig and dig until it finds something that can be used to exclude any particular visitor. Excuse me, every particular visitor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    drewdad (profile), 19 May 2018 @ 9:01am

    Dunno why we're pretending

    Pretty sure these "analysts" could just be replaced with racist dogs that bark at folks with more melanin, and it would suit the desires of ICE pretty well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      drewdad (profile), 19 May 2018 @ 9:03am

      Re: Dunno why we're pretending

      My point being that giving humans access to a social media feed is just going to result in discrimination based on skin color.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 May 2018 @ 8:32pm

    Dang, there goes my plan to get rich by selling fake Facebook accounts to immigrants.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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