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Bloch-Wehba Calls for Transparency in Government Use of Algorithms in Washington Post Article

Professor Hannah Bloch-Wehba

March 11, 2020

On March 5, the Washington Post published an article by Professor Hannah Bloch-Wehba examining the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) use of an algorithm to determine whether or not individuals arrested for immigration offenses can be released before appearing in court.

ICE has used risk assessment software for years. However, a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Bronx Defenders alleges that, shortly after Donald Trump took office, ICE secretly manipulated the algorithm underlying the tool, resulting in “the federal government’s unlawful, prolonged jailing of thousands of people arrested in the New York City area.”

In the four years before the change, the algorithm recommended about 47 percent of those arrested be released. After June 2017, recommendations for release dropped to about three percent, while the number of arrests increased.

Noting that ICE is not alone in its secrecy, Bloch-Wehba calls for transparency from government agencies using algorithms to make decisions, since individual rights and liberties are at stake.

“It is not just that algorithms can, as appears to be the case here, systematically lead to unjustified outcomes,” she wrote. “It is also that victims of the system and watchdog groups often have no way of knowing why and how the decisions are made, which forecloses accountability.”