ICE Seeks Automated Vetting for Its Extreme Vetting Initiative

In July 2017, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued its Statement of Objectives for the Extreme Vetting Initiative. The main objective of this initiative is to develop software and algorithms to centralize and automate the vetting process. The software would replace the current manual vetting process.

ICE proposes to use software for the vetting process as a result of the various Executive Orders that address immigration and border protection. The goal of these Executive Orders is to increase public safety by preventing terrorists or other party seeking to defraud the immigration system from entering the United States.

To meet the mandates of the Executive Orders, ICE proposes to replace the current manual vetting process, which ICE describes as both time-consuming and labor-intensive, with a software-based system. According to ICE, a manual vetting process has resulted in a backlog of cases and does not provide for continuous vetting after the alien has entered the U.S.

The software would allow for an automated and expedited vetting process. ICE claims that this would mitigate a case backlog and provide field agents with timely, actionable information, and would allow for periodic and/or continuous review and vetting of aliens.

In November 2017, a coalition consisting of 54 scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and experts wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security expressing “grave concerns” about ICE’s Extreme Vetting Initiative and objectives. Their letter states that it would be technically impossible to develop software and algorithm that can determine whether an individual will become a positively contributing member of society. These characteristics would be difficult, if not impossible, to define and measure.

Further, algorithms designed to protect these undefined qualities could result in false positives – innocent individuals falsely identified as posing immigration risk. For example, the software developer could stipulate a social media post criticizing U.S. foreign policy as a threat to U.S. national interest. Developing software to perform vetting of aliens would enable discrimination of individuals “under a veneer of objectivity.”