Federal use of A.I. in visa applications could breach human rights, report says

Federal use of A.I. in visa applications could breach human rights, report says

Impacts of automated decision-making involving immigration applications and how errors and assumptions could lead to “life-and-death ramifications”

OTTAWA — A new report is warning about the federal government’s interest in using artificial intelligence to screen and process immigrant files, saying it could create discrimination, as well as privacy and human rights breaches.

The research, conducted by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab outlines the impacts of automated decision-making involving immigration applications and how errors and assumptions within the technology could lead to “life-and-death ramifications” for immigrants and refugees.

The authors of the report issue a list of seven recommendations calling for greater transparency and public reporting and oversight on government’s use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to automate certain activities involving immigrant and visitor applications.

“We know that the government is experimenting with the use of these technologies … but it’s clear that without appropriate safeguards and oversight mechanisms, using A.I. in immigration and refugee determinations is very risky because the impact on people’s lives are quite real,” said Petra Molnar, one of the authors of the report.

“A.I. is not neutral. It’s kind of like a recipe and if your recipe is biased, the decision that the algorithm will make is also biased and difficult to challenge.”

Earlier this year, federal officials launched two pilot projects to have an A.I. system sort through temporary resident visa applications from China and India. Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, says the analytics program helps officers triage online visa applications to “process routine cases more efficiently.”

He says the technology is being used exclusively as a “sorting mechanism” to help immigration officers deal with an ever-growing number of visitor visas from these countries by quickly identifying standard applications and flagging more complex files for review.

Immigration officers always make final decisions about whether to deny a visa, Genest says.

But this isn’t the only dive into artificial intelligence being spearheaded by the Immigration Department.

In April, the department started gauging interest from the private sector in developing other pilot projects involving A.I., or ”machine learning,” for certain areas of immigration law, including in humanitarian and compassionate applications, as well as pre-removal risk assessments.

These two refugee streams of Canada’s immigration system are often used as a last resort by vulnerable people fleeing violence and war to remain in Canada, the Citizen Lab report notes.

“Because immigration law is discretionary, this group is really the last group that should be subject to technological experiments without oversight,” Molnar says.

She notes that A.I. has a “problematic track record” when it comes to gender and race, specifically in predictive policing that has seen certain groups over-policed.

“What we are worried about is these types of biases are going to be imported into this high risk laboratory of immigration decision-making.”

The government says officials are only interested developing or acquiring a tool to help Immigration and Justice Department officials manage litigation and develop legal advice in immigration law.

“The intent is to support decision makers in their work and not replace them,” Genest said.

“We are monitoring and assessing the results and success of these pilots before we launch or consider expanding it to other countries and lines of business.”

In April, Treasury Board released a white paper on “responsible artificial intelligence in the government of Canada,” and is currently consulting with stakeholders to develop a draft directive on the use of automated decision-making technologies within government.

Molnar says she hopes officials will consider the Citizenship Lab’s research and recommendations, including their call for an independent, arms-length oversight body to monitor and review the use of A.I. decision-making systems.

“We are beyond the conversation whether or not A.I. is being used. The question is, if A.I. is here to stay we want to make sure it is done right.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Big White Ski Resort pictured on Feb. 26. (Big White Ski Resort)
No new COVID-19 cases at Big White in past week: IH

No more cases have been detected since IH’s last Big White Mountai update, Feb. 19

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Female deputy fire chief embraces the challenges

“Fighting a fire can be taught to anyone,” says Kelowna deputy fire chief, Sandra Follack

Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield. (Contributed)
Gender no deterrent for Kelowna businesswoman, MLA

“He looked at me, and he said, ‘You’ll never be as good of a developer as I am.’” — Renee Merrifield

While the Okanagan Rail Trail remained open, Coldstream parks have been closed for a month now, but could re-open mid-May. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Funds link Okanagan Rail Trail to Predator Ridge

1.3-km section of multi-use trail with a safe crossing under Highway 97

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Feb. 23, 2021
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here are the stories that made waves in the Okanagan-Shuswap

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

BC Housing has proposed that the emergency winter shelter at Victory Church at 352 Winnipeg Street be extended as a shelter until March 31, 2022. It was originally intended to be open until April 1, 2021. (Jesse Day - Western News)
One more year of ‘temporary’ homeless shelter in Penticton?

BC Housing has applied to extend Victory Church as a shelter for those experiencing homelessness

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Most Read