The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has been using an AI-powered tool called Giant Oak Search Technology (GOST) to scan visa applicants’ social media posts since 2014, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act action.
According to an Oct. 27 TechSpot report, the system gives applicants a “social media score” from 1-100 based on whether their posts are deemed “derogatory” towards the United States. ICE analysts can then review flagged images and profiles to determine if applicants are a risk.
ICE has paid Giant Oak over $10 million since 2017 for the technology, which also has contracts with the DEA, Air Force, State Department, and Treasury Department. Privacy advocates argue this type of AI screening raises significant civil liberties issues.
Should the government use algorithms to search social media to determine who is “risky?”
“The government should not be using algorithms to scrutinize our social media posts and decide which of us is ‘risky,’” said Patrick Toomey deputy director of the ACLU’s national security project. “DHS needs to explain to the public how its systems determine whether someone is a risk or not, and what happens to the people whose online posts are flagged by its algorithms.”
The social media surveillance program started as a 2016 pilot targeting potential visa overstayers. That same year, the Trump administration implemented rules requiring visa applicants to provide five years of social media history.
Experts warn these practices could lead to discrimination, with applicants from certain countries or backgrounds more likely to be flagged by automated systems. In 2019, a Harvard student was denied entry to the U.S. because of friends’ social media activity.
According to the records, ICE’s contract with Giant Oak ended in 2022. Still, the practice of using AI to assess applicants’ social media raises questions about privacy, accountability, and fairness in immigration enforcement. More oversight is needed to prevent abuse and protect civil liberties.
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