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Monday, April 09, 2018

Some thoughts on technology & surveillance

Thank you to Howard and the Prawfsblawg family for having me back.  I have found last month’s discussion about the future of legal education fascinating.  The intersections of innovation and technology are of much personal interest to me, and I echo some of the hopes that legal education will embrace a bit of healthy disruption.

I wanted to spend a bit of time this month talking about new technologies and civil rights with a focus on policing.  I will start by simply highlighting a fascinating series of blog posts curated by the ACLU on whether artificial intelligence will make us less free.  (Answer yes).  The most recent posting (each of the postings come out every few days) discusses the intersection of immigration and new technologies. Written by Erica Posey and Rachel Levinson-Waldman of the Brennan Center, here is a snippet of one proposed DHS idea for a predictive system to identify possible bad actors:

"An Immigration and Customs Enforcement call for software companies to bid on the creation of an automated vetting system — to scrutinize people abroad seeking U.S. visas as well as foreigners already in the country — came to light in August 2017. In keeping with the goals outlined in President Trump’s Muslim ban, the request for proposals called for software capable of evaluating an individual’s propensity to commit crime or terrorism or to “contribute to the national interest.” The algorithm is meant to make automated predictions regarding who should get in and who should get to stay in the country, by        evaluating open source data of dubious quality using a hidden formula insulated from public review."

This request for a predictive tool to evaluate immigrants can be compared with another DHS idea floated last week to monitor the public activities of media professionals and influencers which might include some bloggers and public intellectuals in the legal academy (depending on the definition of “influence” I guess … do law review downloads count?).  DHS's Media Monitoring Services project like other concepts seeks to use big data technologies to monitor patterns of activities in public and quasi-public areas of our lives.  While the fear is perhaps overblown (today), the future danger is that blog posts like this one will now be included and monitored because the algorithm will pick up the key words without necessarily considering the content.  Just by writing about DHS surveillance, I am drawing the attention of DHS surveillance.  This might not be the best use of our technology or tax dollars.  And, it certainly warrants a healthy bit of skepticism.

Posted by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson on April 9, 2018 at 11:23 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: Alvina Jennifer | Nov 14, 2018 6:49:30 AM

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Posted by: Liza Nick | Nov 14, 2018 6:48:55 AM

Isn't this just a retread of John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness from the Bush II days?

Posted by: Dan | Apr 9, 2018 5:53:10 PM

It is highly recommended to read this article , and understand , how it is far greater more sophisticated than gathering keywords ( especially sentiment analysis ) here :



Posted by: El roam | Apr 9, 2018 2:19:17 PM

Just correction :

Instead of : " corporations " should be : " Corroboration " of course ….

Apologizing …..

Posted by: El roam | Apr 9, 2018 12:53:26 PM

Thanks for the post and the interesting related article ( " what lurks behind all that immigration data ) . Of course it should raise fears and concerns , but it is not based really simply on collecting keywords and action in accordance . It is far greater more sophisticated than that . The article suggest clearly that it is based on artificial intelligence , and : " tools that ostensibly analyze tone and sentiment " even . Surly , if Wasserman , would simply write the words : " Jihad " or : " holy war " , it wouldn't be sufficient . It is based upon gathering and crossing different inputs for verification and further corporations until greater picture may be formed , raising so reasonable suspicions . Even so , gathering it , and acting on it ( in the plain legal meaning of it ) that is a serious gap of course .

One should not forget , that anonymity in the internet , is also an issue ( like many comments in that blog for example etc….).

Not less , is the issue , of transfer of data from one agency to another , without much relevancy , but this is a hell of another complicated issue .

However , in a way or other , Muslim communities , are under very tight surveillance , with or without AI ( artificial intelligence and alike ). I have posted here in the past , the case of that Muslim community in New York city which was under surveillance during long time ( United states court of appeals for the third circuit ) here :


But of course , electronically , and easily and conveniently and remotely conducted , makes a huge game changer .It is really relevant and legitimate to fear it .


Posted by: El roam | Apr 9, 2018 12:50:10 PM

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