ICE Abandons Efforts for Social Media Vetting Algorithm

May 18, 2018

Yesterday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly abandoned efforts to build a program to predict, using machine learning and analysis of social media and other online sources, who would contribute to the “national interest” or commit a terrorist act. The Brennan Center and a coalition of civil society organizations, along with a group of technological experts, had called on the Department of Homeland Security to immediately end the initiative. They raised concerns that it would be “tailor-made for discrimination,” chill free speech, and simply not work – since “no computational methods can provide reliable or objective assessments of the traits that ICE seeks to measure.”

“ICE’s plan for an algorithm to predict national security risks and individuals’ contributions to our country based on social media was shockingly misguided,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Liberty & National Security Program. “Not only would it have led to discrimination and threatened constitutional rights, but as technologists have pointed out, it also set out an impossible task that no program could realistically or accurately achieve.”

“The system that ICE proposed was a digital Muslim ban,” said Alvaro Bedoya, founding executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology. “It would have empowered ICE to deport whomever it wanted — based on criteria pulled directly from the original Muslim ban. Scrapping this plan was the right decision. We now have to stay vigilant to make sure that ICE’s new monitoring plan does not have the same effect as the old one.”

More than 50 other groups mobilized against the initiative, including the ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Media Justice, Free Press, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Muslim Advocates, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Open MIC.

View the Center’s resource page on ICE’s Extreme Vetting Initiative.

Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Liberty & National Security.

For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or