ICE Turns to Technology to Enact Trump’s ‘Extreme Vetting’ of Immigrants

The Trump Administration is enlisting the help of Silicon Valley to fulfill a campaign promise of extreme vetting for immigrants. Details for the proposed increases in vetting measures were revealed at a tech industry conference last month, which was attended by officials from the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as executives from software giants such as Microsoft, Accenture, and Motorola Solutions. The conference was sponsored by the Government Technology & Services Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association of companies that work to develop solutions for federal national security.

In a statement to conference attendees, Louis Rodi, who is deputy assistant director of ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ National Security program, revealed that one of ICE’s most ambitious security goals is to work with software companies to develop an algorithm that would analyze potential threats posed by U.S. visa holders and visa applicants. “We have millions and millions and millions of people coming every year, and subsequently departing, so we have to be smart about it,” he said. “And I’m sure there are tools out there that can help.” Rodi went on to explain that the increased vetting measures would focus on large scale monitoring of social media activity of targeted visa holders and applicants. “Everything we’re dealing with is in bulk, so we need batch vetting capabilities for any of the processes that we have.”

In an eMailed statement to online investigative journal ProPublica, ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutreel clarified that the enhanced security program, officially titled “Visa Lifestyle Vetting,” is still in its early stages, and that clearance from several government agencies will be required before any new policies can be implemented. “The request for information on this initiative was simply that – an opportunity to gather information from industry professionals and other government agencies on current technological capabilities to determine the best way forward,” she wrote. And in his speech last month at the tech industry conference, Rodi insisted that ICE has not officially contracted any companies to develop algorithms for increased security and social media monitoring.

But ICE’s insistence that they are approaching their new security goals with caution may fail to placate critics of the program who claim it will lead to unnecessary invasions of privacy and discriminate against visa holders and applicants from predominately Muslim countries, particularly since visa holders from several Muslim nations were included in Trump’s widely criticized travel ban that was instituted earlier this year. But ICE seems confident in their ability to harness social media monitoring as a method of improving vetting measures, even if, by their own admission, already existing social media surveillance protocols have failed to detect any new security threats. “We haven’t found anything that would preclude someone from getting a visa through social media alone,” Rodi conceded at the conference. “But, you never know, the day may come when social media will actually find someone that wasn’t in the government systems we check.” [See Extreme Digital Vetting of Visitors to the U.S. Moves Forward Under a New Name by George Joseph, ProPublica, 22.Nov.2017.]


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