When President Trump rolled out his executive order banning immigration from certain countries, the judicial branch was quick to respond with a ban on the ban. The issues are convoluted but break down to one key question: is the order discriminatory? Some have gone as far as to call the ban “un-American.” While designed to be a security measure, the issue has turned into one of equality instead.
Much of this debate could be avoided by allowing automation to control the deep vetting process. Technology can become an important tool for eliminating human bias in deep vetting. It can also be a means of reducing claims of discrimination by making it essentially impossible. By using automation to decide who to interview and verify, investigations can be both thorough and fair.
How Human Bias Impacts Investigations
Human bias, often called cognitive bias, occurs when a person makes an inaccurate or irrational decision because of a tendency to think a certain way. While people often immediately think of racial bias, there are in fact many different kinds, and they are complex phenomena. Some more common cognitive biases, many of which we can see in Trump’s executive order and the reaction to it, include:
- Focalism – This means focusing on one fact too heavily in making a decision. In this, it could be argued that Trump’s executive order uses the Muslim religion as a focal point, causing many to believe they all hold extremist beliefs. Essentially, focalism could indicate we’re so busy looking for Muslim extremists, that we miss the risk of other extremists.
- Availability heuristic – This happens when someone overestimates the likelihood of unlikely events because they happened before. Terrorist attacks, despite their prominence in the news, are unlikely events—certainly far less common than both military actions and non-extremism based attacks. However, most voters and politicians lived through the 9/11 attacks and fear that such a widespread attack will happen again, even though it would be statistically unlikely.
- Bias blind spot – Mainly, this means you don’t think you’re capable of being biased and because of that, wind up being biased. We could say this about the United States, simply due to our credos of freedom and equality. Some would argue that the United States can’t be biased in its immigration decisions because of those credos and because of that, the US has a biased blind spot.
- Framing – Framing occurs when people use the same sets of facts to prove opposite points, thereby “framing” the evidence in a way they want it viewed. This is clearly present in the responses to the executive order, in that some view it positively, as something that will protect the US. Others view it as discriminatory. Both sides have access to the same sets of facts, but frame those facts to support their views.
- Negativity bias – A person is far more likely to recall an unpleasant memory, and base future interactions on that, rather than on a pleasant one. For an example, we simply need to look at US relations with Iraq in the 1970s and 80s, as compared to the 90s and after. The US was responsible for bringing Saddam Hussein’s party to power, initially creating strong relations. However, very few people remember that and instead, focus on Iraq’s history with the US post-Operation Desert Storm
- Zero-sum bias – Simply stated, someone must lose so someone else can win. Both sides of the executive order argument display this, by arguing why one side is wrong, rather than seeking a compromise.
The human mind will create biases. While discrimination should never be accepted, the psychology behind it needs to be examined to prevent it. The first thing that anyone completing an investigation needs to accept is that there is no such thing as an unbiased human decision. The next is that sometimes, technology knows better.
Leveraging Automation to Eliminate Bias
It needs to be stated right off bat that there’s no way to eliminate the need for human interaction in extreme vetting. However, extreme vetting processes can be long and expensive. That means they need to be parsed out sparingly. The key to eliminating discrimination in those investigations is to eliminate it in the triage process.
Look at it this way: rather than issuing an immigration suspension against a fixed group of countries, a better triaging process could be created for the immigration system as a whole. Here’s how it might work:
- A temporary suspension would be placed on the initial issuing of visas in a specific category of concern – with respect to the fact that categories have different time requirements. For example, we wouldn’t suddenly eliminate the issuing of student visas during the start of a new college semester and instead would schedule that suspension for a lower demand time.
- During that suspension, applicants would be asked to complete an automated questionnaire designed to root out key indicators of risk.
- These indicators of risk would be based on past indicators seen in actual terrorism cases, to include:
- Connections with any extremist organizations or individuals
- A history of violent crime against a specific group of people
- Prior military service in militaries for countries known to hold anti-western beliefs
- The appearance on government watch lists or previous visa denials
- The inability to verify an identity or suspicion that a submitted identity is false
- A history of travel to certain high-risk countries
- The individuals would be asked to verify their answers to their questionnaire by contacting a Remote Risk Assessment (RRA) call center. During this, the individual would be asked to verify information using “yes” or “no” answers.
- The answers would be automatically analyzed for risk and applicants could be categorized based on that risk level.
- When appropriately categorized, visa applicants can be scheduled to either complete the process or be forwarded for more extreme vetting, based on their RRA results.
This process allows us to reduce bias by letting an automated system conduct a brief interview. It also eliminates the need to focus on specific regions and reduces the risk of human bias in the initial visa issuing process.
AC Global Risk conducts these assessments on a global basis and can customize the verification tests to work for any situation, in any language. Our technology offers a high accuracy rate, while allowing you to scale your investigations. Finally, it makes sure everyone gets a fair shot by eliminating bias from the equation. For more information on RRA technology, contact AC Global.