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Trump's Extreme Vetting Initiative Impossible Without Bias

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In pursuit of a way to accomplish Donald Trump’s “extreme vetting” for immigrants idea, large technology firms like IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Red Hat attempted to take on the task.

Over 100 civil rights and technology groups have come together to claim that code for “extreme vetting” software would promote discrimination.  Letters written by legal scholars dictate the inability to implement such procedures and the catastrophic result of trying to implement them.  One letter was signed by 54 experts in computer science, engineering, and other fields that have “grave concerns” regarding “extreme vetting.”

According to ICE documents, the Extreme Vetting Initiative needs software that can “determine and evaluate an applicant’s probability of becoming a positively contributing member of society, as well as their ability to contribute to national interests.”  Experts from Google, MIT, and Berkeley are skeptical that “computational methods can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.”

The fear of bias that pervades the letters in opposition of the Extreme Vetting Initiative stems from the recognition that a computer system cannot accurately assess a human life’s benefit to society.  Positive contributions are unquantifiable and abstract, therefore an algorithm could simply flag different groups of immigrants arbitrarily.

Some suspect that social media posts regarding American government policies and an applicant’s income would be forms of evidence that an algorithm would respond to.  Many worry that racial and religious bias would inevitably run rampant.

The second letter was signed by many different human and civil rights organizations, including the ACLU.  According to the 56 organizations that signed the letter, the Extreme Vetting Initiative and the software necessary “risks hiding politicized, discriminatory decisions behind a veneer of objectivity—at great cost to freedom of speech, civil liberties, civil rights, and human rights. It will hurt real, decent people and tear apart families.”

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