Tech companies are being solicited to partner with DHS for “Extreme Vetting” — an initiative that technology experts and civil liberties groups call a threat to constitutional rights
Today, Open MIC joins a coalition of over 50 civil society organizations – advocates for civil rights, civil liberties, government accountability, human rights, immigrants’ rights, and privacy – in urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to immediately halt a new “Extreme Vetting Initiative” on the grounds that it will be inaccurate, biased, and a threat to constitutional and human rights. The Initiative is Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) plan to monitor the Internet, including social media, to make “determinations via automation” to flag people for deportation or visa denial based on whether an individual will become a “positively contributing member of society” or “contribute to the national interest” – even though those terms are undefined in American immigration law.
Open MIC has raised concerns about the risks tech companies may face as they are solicited to contract with ICE to implement this harmful, discriminatory program. Over the past 6 months, ICE has hosted events for tech companies to learn more about providing technology to allow the government to carry out this dangerous program, with the goal of awarding a company a contract by September 2018. In October, Open MIC wrote to 19 of the major companies that had representatives attend these events, to share these concerns and to ask whether the companies planned to further engage with ICE on this effort. Only three companies responded to Open MIC’s questions and only one company confirmed they will not be pursuing a contract.
Major technology firms like IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, LexisNexis, and Deloitte have expressed interest in this contract — raising questions for investors about the companies’ responsibility to reject risky business deals that could further racially discriminatory and ineffective immigration policies. The criteria for the program’s decision-making are drawn from executive orders that courts have found are designed to target Muslims.
“There’s no question about it: Companies that participate in the Extreme Vetting Initiative are taking on significant business and reputational risks,” said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, which works to foster shareholder engagement with tech and media companies.
Connor noted expert opinion suggesting that the Extreme Vetting Initiative could very well position companies for failure. In a letter published today, a group of more than 50 experts in computer science, engineering, math, and automated decision-making have written to DHS regarding potential dangers of the program, stating: “no computational methods can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.”
Open MIC joins groups including the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Media Justice, Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, Color of Change, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center and many more in signing on to the letter to DHS.