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This article was published on February 20, 2020

Algorithm blocks human rights investigator from entering US

Eyal Weizman was heading stateside for an exhibition by Forensic Architecture, his investigative group

Algorithm blocks human rights investigator from entering US Image by: jnn1776
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Thomas is a writer at TNW. He covers the full spectrum of European tech, with a particular focus on deeptech, startups, and government polic Thomas is a writer at TNW. He covers the full spectrum of European tech, with a particular focus on deeptech, startups, and government policy.

A human rights investigator has been told he can’t enter the US due to the recommendation of an algorithm.

Eyal Weizman, the director of London-based investigative group Forensic Architecture, was first informed by email that his visa waiver had been revoked. No reason was given for the revocation. The next day, he went to apply for a visa at the US Embassy in London, where an officer told him that he couldn’t travel to the country because an algorithm had identified a security threat.

“He said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had traveled (had I recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, or Somalia or met their nationals?), hotels at which I stayed, or a certain pattern of relations among these things,” Weizman explained in a statement sent to the Architect’s Newspaper.

Weizman, who holds both British and Israeli passports, was also asked if he knew anyone who may have triggered the algorithm — ostensibly to help the Department of Homeland Security investigate his case. He refused to answer the questions.

Algorithmic justice

Weizman had been planning to travel to the US for the opening of Forensic Architecture’s first major survey exhibition in the country, which was being held at Miami’s Museum of Art and Design (MOAD).

On display will be investigations into Chicago Police killings, CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, and the use of VR to compel witness testimony, among other work by the Goldsmiths, University of London-based research group.

Weizman had visited the US dozens of times before his visa was revoked. The political sensitivity of his work has led to suspicions that this may be another case of “ideological exclusion,” a policy that closes the door to foreigners whose views the government dislikes.

[Read: Predictive policing is a scam that perpetuates systemic bias]

The Trump administration has been accused of increasingly using this approach to deny entry to people ranging from a BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigner to an international criminal court’s prosecutor planning to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan.

Weizman told the New York Times that the use of algorithms to measure “relations between actions and movement, between people and places” needed to be examined. However, it’ll be difficult to find out what was the impact (if any) of the algorithm that led him to be blocked from entering the US, as the government refuses to discuss individual visa cases.

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