The US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unit is utilizing intrusive AI-powered systems to screen travelers moving in and out of the country, a document acquired by Motherboard via a freedom of information request revealed this week.

The CBP is monitoring US citizens, refugees and asylum seekers and, in some cases, is using the AI-technology to link people’s social media posts to their Social Security numbers and location data, the report showed.

The Government’s AI-Powered Surveillance Tool

The tool the government department is using for monitoring is called Babel X.

Users can input information about a target they want to learn more about, such as their name, email address of phone number.

The system then returns a multitude of other data points about that individual, which can apparently include things like the person’s social media posts, work history and any associated IP addresses.

Babel X, made by a firm called Babel Street, is software that amalgamates publicly and commercially available data in over 200 languages and is supposedly AI-enabled.

Indeed, last November, Babel Street announced plans to acquire AI text analysis company Rosette, which it said would help it Babel X tool with “identity resolution”, which could bolster national security and the fight against financial crime.

Freedom Advocates Worried

According to the document released by CBP, “Babel data will be used/captured/stored in support of CBP targeting, vetting, operations and analysis,” and will be stored on the agency’s operating systems for 75 years.

“The US government’s ever-expanding social media dragnet is certain to chill people from engaging in protected speech and association online,” senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute Carrie DeCell told Motherboard.

“And CBP’s use of this social media surveillance technology is especially concerning in connection with existing rules requiring millions of visa applicants each year to register their social media handles with the government”.

“As we’ve argued in a related lawsuit, the government simply has no legitimate interest in collecting and retaining such sensitive information on this immense scale”.

Meanwhile, deputy project director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Patrick Toomey told Motherboard that “this document provides important new information, and it raises a number of questions about what specific purposes CBP is using social media monitoring for and how that monitoring is conducted in practice”.

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