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Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts (apnews.com) 160

An anonymous reader shares an Associated Press report: Leading researchers castigated a federal plan that would use artificial intelligence methods to scrutinize immigrants and visa applicants, saying it is unworkable as written and likely to be "inaccurate and biased" if deployed. The experts, a group of more than 50 computer and data scientists, mathematicians and other specialists in automated decision-making, urged the Department of Homeland Security to abandon the project, dubbed the "Extreme Vetting Initiative." That plan has its roots in President Donald Trump's repeated pledge during the 2016 campaign to subject immigrants seeking admission to the United States to more intense ideological scrutiny -- or, as he put it, "extreme vetting." Over the summer, DHS published a "statement of objectives" for a system that would use computer algorithms to scan social media and other material in order to automatically flag undesirable entrants -- and to continuously scan the activities of those allowed into the U.S.
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Federal Extreme Vetting Plan Castigated By Tech Experts

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 16, 2017 @04:33PM (#55565777)

    "It won't be perfect, so lets scrap the whole thing!"

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @04:56PM (#55565995) Homepage

      Yes, because the greater the imperfection, the more likely you will pursue empty investigations whilst the real criminals further down the list, carry out their crimes. Have you failed to notice how often they have information about terrorists and failed to act. That is because they wasted resources upon empty investigations and did not get to the necessary ones. Add to that performance based investigatory demands. You must get results, you must profit, so they take the easy way out, the profitable way out, find some nutter and spend months stitching them up for a guaranteed prosecution, it is the corporate for profit way (that the nutter would have done nothing without intervention meaningless in a for profit world, it was a cheap investigation with a guarantee of success much easier than all those other hard investigations that you get blamed for when you don't deliver results). This is the reason why US security so routinely fails, why it's successes upon deep scrutiny are not successes at all, why performance based is a stupid failure, why an attitude of maximise profits not maximise results kills. You know what will happen, the contractors will pay lobbyists who will corrupt force through the failed programs to generate profits and basically fuck the results, they don't care, it was profitable.

      • No investigation needed, there is a large surplus of people who want to immigrate. Just turn them down.

      • Most of the people who get caught will spew a whole bunch of crap on their media accounts before they're covered by OpSec.

        Tech people tend to believe that most people are intelligent. Most UI and support people know that the general public tends to be as dumb as a doorknob. People from overseas can be even dumber.

        At some point most terrorists proudly broadcast their beliefs out to the world. Then they get OpSec and stop. This might catch a bunch of them before they go operational.

        • by shilly ( 142940 )

          Alternatively, it might divert a tremendous amount of effort into sifting through vast quantities of signal in search of tiny tiny noises.

          • by mveloso ( 325617 )

            They're already looking at tiny signals in a bunch of noise. The problem is that those signals are hard to get to without automation.

            • by shilly ( 142940 )

              1. The whole point of HUMINT is to shortcut the noise-sifting.
              2. Adding in a ton of new noise does not make the problem easier

        • Some screening might be better than none... but there's no evidence that anything more than what's been done in the past is required. So it's all just a waste of money and time, serving no purpose other than to make the US look like xenophobic assholes. Which, I'll grant, a substantial number of us appear to be.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        That, and if your vetting is too prone to mistakes with severe consequences for the victim, or too intrusive, it will discourage people from coming to the US.

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Not even that.

      It's a plan to develop something. So they are objecting to even the premise.

    • Apparently, AI can do anything except vet immigrants.

    • by shilly ( 142940 )

      Great, that's the upper bound established: perfection is an inappropriate bar. Now, what about the lower bound? Worse then fucking useless seems like a reasonable place to start.

      But then, I suspect you and reason are uncomfortable bedfellows.

    • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
      > "It won't be perfect, so lets scrap the whole thing!"

      It's not even good. It's so bad it's not worth the taxpayer money spent on implementing it.

    • If you read the letter, it's actually saying, "We don't know how to do it and haven't tried to figure out how, so it isn't possible and nobody should even think about it."

      I would accept, "We don't want to work with this administration." I cannot accept the BS they're peddling.

  • Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Obviously there's no link to reality with this security theater. Terrorism isn't a real threat and there's no science to any of these things.

    What I don't understand is why bother? Trump has thrown enough red meat to his xenophobic base already. He tried to ban muslims coming into the country and the courts struck it down.

    He doesn't even need to DO anything, his base is still convinced he's "draining the swamp," despite doing what can only be described as the exact opposite.

    Why doesn't he just SAY "
    • Geez, what planet do you live on?

      "Terrorism isn't a real threat"

      You're in the US, right? Nice "twin towers" you have, shame they fell down. But terrorism isn't a real threat. Right. Got it.

      "What I don't understand is why bother? Trump has thrown enough red meat to his xenophobic base already. ... He doesn't even need to DO anything, his base is still convinced he's 'draining the swamp,'"

      No, I think you misunderstand: his base hopes he will drain the swamp, but it is only a hope. Trump is a total wildcard. N

      • Geez, what planet do you live on?

        "Terrorism isn't a real threat"

        You're in the US, right? Nice "twin towers" you have, shame they fell down. But terrorism isn't a real threat. Right. Got it.

        You believe the official story? LOL!

      • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

        You're in the US, right? Nice "twin towers" you have, shame they fell down. But terrorism isn't a real threat. Right. Got it.

        One event that resulted in some 3000 dead and a spectactular display in more than 15 years. Yeah, I'd call that not much of a threat, in purely objective terms.

        Compared to Spain or Northern Ireland, when it comes to terrorism the USA is a veritable haven. Unless you start counting mass shootings of course, but for some reason calling for extreme vetting of gun owners is not done.

      • (sigh) the number of people dead from 9/11 wasn't a blip on the fatality graph. White dudes with guns though IS. Google it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The demographics of the people we need to exclude are stone cold simple and abundantly clear. Getting fancy about who we let in will just lead to mistakes and tragedy

  • - The Extreme Vetting Initiative seeks to predict whether an individual will become a positively contributing member of society and will contribute to the national interests. As far as we know, no one has ever defined or quantified these characteristics, so machine learning won't help.

    - Since this is guaranteed fail, the people running the show will invariably turn to proxies that are better-known, such as Facebook posts criticizing the US. That sucks, because then you'll unintentionally keep some good --

    • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Thursday November 16, 2017 @05:05PM (#55566071)

      As far as we know, no one has ever defined or quantified these characteristics

      1. Can Read and write.
      2. Speaks English and do #1 in English.
      3. A degree of some kind?
      4. Lack of association with any radical groups.
      5. A US citizen who will sponsor them.

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        Plenty of people born in the U.S. don't meet these standards. Strange that they can't be deported.

        • Plenty of people born in the U.S. don't meet these standards. Strange that they can't be deported.

          Have you read the Constitution?

          • The Constitution is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules.

            At least that's what our lawmakers and judges think. And our president almost certainly hasn't read it.
            • Is the downmod because someone thinks lawmakers aren't constantly trying to pass clearly unconstitutional laws? Or that judges aren't always finding invisible exceptions for drugs/terrorism/$todaysbaddy? Or is it because the comment about the president made someone mad because they know it's almost certainly true?
              I'm confused o_O
      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        Why would they be able to speak English? It is not the official language. In fact, there is no official language in the US. There is a bill, but no law for now: https://www.congress.gov/bill/... [congress.gov]

    • Did you RTFA? DHS was asking if AI could be used to automate background checks.

      “There are many ways one could meet that statement of objectives, some of which would make the system fairer, more equitable and faster for those seeking to immigrate,” Shapiro said. “But some of which could be biased and unfair, as any algorithm can be.”

  • Sure it's inaccurate, but the aim is to err on the side of safety. As a choice between letting in a terrorist in the name of "accuracy" or kicking out an innocent, we need to kick out the innocent.

    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      As a choice between letting in a terrorist in the name of "accuracy" or kicking out an innocent, we need to kick out the innocent.

      Do you have the same opinion of our judicial system? How do you feel about the following statement which is in the same spirit as yours:

      As a choice between letting a criminal go free in the name of "accuracy" or jailing an innocent, we need to jail the innocent.

      • Fail.
        The innocent in his scenario is a foreign person not being granted entry into the US, something which they have no right to do.
        The innocent in your scenario is a US citizen being denied justice, which is something they expressly are guaranteed.

        • The law is different, but the concept is the same. This concept is what caused us to create the laws we have.

      • As a choice between letting a criminal go free in the name of "accuracy" or jailing an innocent, we need to jail the innocent.

        If the crime in question has to do with sex, then yes a lot of people seem to think that. Can't have reasonable doubt getting in the way and all.

      • As a choice between letting in a terrorist in the name of "accuracy" or kicking out an innocent, we need to kick out the innocent.

        Do you have the same opinion of our judicial system? How do you feel about the following statement which is in the same spirit as yours:

        As a choice between letting a criminal go free in the name of "accuracy" or jailing an innocent, we need to jail the innocent.

        Apples and oranges. Immigration policy is about who and how many we choose to admit, deciding what is in our national interest to do.

    • It's worse than that. They aren't saying it wouldn't be accurate, they're saying that since they don't already know how to do it then it must not be possible and nobody should even think about bothering to find out.
  • We can thank the lamestream media for misrepresenting the facts and so vociferously and incessantly blasting this misinformation all over the air waves. It isn't the extreme vetting that's the problem - its the deliberate "re-interpretation" of the vetting by the media. The common name for this is "scare tactics". When are we all going to wise up? Who is NEVER held accountable for misinformation, riots, lives ruined as the result of misinformation? The media. People die,
  • One of the biggest problems with bureaucracy is that someone has to define the rules that decisions are based upon. Whoever defines those rules is a villain to SOMEONE, so no one wants to be traceably responsible for the rules.

    But, if it's an Artificial Intelligence that makes the decisions, it makes for the perfect excuse - "We didn't make that decision, the AI Expert did."

    The scientists involved in actual AI research don't like this, because now they become the villains...

  • AIs just think it's stupid, unless they're scripted bots.

  • You mean -- it's like Trump?

    That sounds like it would be considered a reason to implement it by this administration.

  • If it comes from Reichsfuhrer Pussigrabber's administration, then inaccurate and biased is probably the entire point.
  • So a person wants to enter the USA? Why?
    For an education? To stay for some time for some reason? To emigrate? As a refugee? To find work? Got a special talent?
    All that can be considered if the person is from a normal nation with a working government, passports, educational system and police records.
    Did they try to change their own government for "freedom" and "democracy" and fail? Now they demand the USA has support them?
    Do they demand to bring in a vast numbers of other people once they get into
    • So I can visit my family, and my wife can visit her in-laws?

    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      So a person wants to enter the USA? Why?
      For an education? To stay for some time for some reason? To emigrate? As a refugee? To find work? Got a special talent?
      All that can be considered if the person is from a normal nation with a working government, passports, educational system and police records.

      Right. So why the security theater? Because "AI sells"?

      Did they try to change their own government for "freedom" and "democracy" and fail? Now they demand the USA has support them?

      What you call "demanding," I call "asking." And God forbid they agitated in their home country for things like human rights, justice, the rule of law ... all things we should stop dead at the U.S. border.

      Do they demand to bring in a vast numbers of other people once they get into the USA?

      How on Earth would they do that?

      How much will every extra person that one person got in cost the USA to look after over the decades?
      Is the person going to cost the USA a lot to support? Has health issues that will cost the US tax payer?

      You mean like the elderly? Fuck 'em, am I right?

      Do their infectious diseases need the US tax payer to cover the full costs of expensive medication for decades?

      Does the U.S. tax payer pay a single penny to cover your medical expenses? I think you must be fantasizing you live in a country with a proper national health care system. O

  • Trump advocates almost anything that violates the constitution or laws of the land. run him through the test. But we all understand that his tribe of demented squirrels must not be seen with the same light as people outside his mad bubble of insanity.
    • As opposed to President Obama's unconstitutional executive order that the Supreme Court decided to let a lower court's restriction stand [cnn.com]?
      • by nasch ( 598556 )

        Whataboutism alive and well on slashdot!

        • Unconstitutional is unconstitutional. I just find it peculiar how many here - and most of the media - was silent when "their guy" was in the big chair. And now that President Trump is there, and completely LEGALLY rescinding President Obama's executive orders, it is somehow "unconstitutional".
          • by nasch ( 598556 )

            Anybody claiming rescinding an executive order by executive order is unconstitutional probably doesn't know what they're talking about. My point is bringing up the misdeeds of someone who is no longer in office in response to someone criticizing the current president looks like an attempt to deflect attention. It's a questionable tactic regardless of the political alignment of the person doing it. If Trump's actions are defensible, then defend them. If they're not, then mentioning Obama doesn't make the

      • The Court had eight living members instead of the usual nine. Since the court was tied it allowed the lower court's ruling to stand. There was no suggestion that anything unconstitutional was attempted at all. And here is a reality for you. I would rather that an undocumented person have a driver's license and insurance. i would rather that an undocumented person have inoculations to protect public health than being forced to hide in the shadows. I would rather that an undocumented person be allowed to work
        • I would rather we simply enforce the immigration laws on the books, rather than illegally ignore them and castigate those who uphold the law. And for the record - my wife is an actual immigrant, we went through all the visas, then temp green card, then permanent green card, and now she takes her oath in January to become a US citizen. But hey, let's just ignore anyone who didn't do any of that, right?
  • I'm curious if the same exact pool of data scientists and analysis will admit that Googe's attempts at using machine learning for flagging comments and removing youtube videos is just as flawed.
  • I was under the impression that only people could be castigated. But if we're now able to meaningfully issue reprimands to abstract concepts like plans, I'd like to be the first to demand a redress of grievances from:
    1. Newton's laws of motion
    2. The concept of "purple"
    3. The Chinese remainder theorem
    and last, but not least,
    5. The number four.
  • ... convenience.

    It is predicted to excel or to suck tater toes, depending on agenda de jour.

  • The motive behind the letter is not technological or scientific. It's political.

    The DHS was looking to find out if machine learning could be used to automate the vetting of visa applicants. The answer should be yes, no, or "Maybe, but we'll have to figure out what to look for, how to measure it, and how to make it fair, fast and effective. So we'll need to put a few years of R&D into it." Probably the latter, right?

    The letter says, "No, because we don't know what to look for or how to measure it

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