In recent years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has come under scrutiny for its use of technology to monitor social media posts and determine their potential “derogatory” nature towards the United States. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit reveal ICE’s reliance on a system called Giant Oak Search Technology (GOST). This article delves into the details of GOST’s capabilities, its implications for immigration enforcement, and the concerns surrounding its use.
1. GOST: Unveiling the Powerful System Behind Immigration Enforcement
1.1 Understanding GOST’s Catchphrase: “We See the People Behind the Data”
GOST, developed by Giant Oak Inc., offers a comprehensive system that allows analysts to evaluate individuals’ social media presence to determine their eligibility for remaining in the country. The catchphrase, “We see the people behind the data,” encapsulates the system’s ability to analyze and interpret online behaviors and connections.
1.2 Behavioral Based Internet Search Capabilities: The Strengths of GOST
The user guide for GOST reveals that the system is capable of providing behavioral-based internet search capabilities. Analysts can search the system using various identifiers such as name, address, email address, and country of citizenship. With GOST’s ranking system, analysts receive a relevance score for each search, aiding in their mission-specific objectives.
1.3 The Interface’s Review of Potentially Derogatory Social Media
GOST allows analysts to review an applicant’s social media activity within the interface, effectively providing a snapshot of their online presence. Images collected from social media or other sources can be evaluated, and analysts have the option to signal approval or disapproval through a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” system. Additionally, GOST offers access to a target’s social media profiles and their “social graph,” suggesting potential connections.
2. The Adoption and Financial Impact of GOST
2.1 GOST’s Usage by Various Government Agencies
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has employed GOST since 2014, according to the user guide. However, the documents also disclose that other governmental entities, including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), State Department, Air Force, and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service (part of the U.S. Treasury), have utilized Giant Oak services over the past decade.
2.2 The Financial Transaction between ICE and Giant Oak Inc.
ICE has paid Giant Oak Inc. more than $10 million since 2017, as recorded in public procurement records. It is noteworthy that a DHS contract with Giant Oak concluded in August 2022, signaling a history of collaboration between the two entities.
3. The Controversy and Accountability Issues Surrounding GOST
3.1 The “HSI PATRIOT Social Media Pilot Program”
The FOIA documents reveal that GOST was used as part of an earlier pilot program called the “HSI PATRIOT Social Media Pilot Program” in 2016. The program aimed to target potential overstay violators in countries of concern.
3.2 The Call for Transparency and Accountability
Critics argue that the government should not rely on algorithms to scrutinize social media posts and determine an individual’s potential risk to national security. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stress the need for transparency and accountability in the use of such technologies. Patrick Toomey, Deputy Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, emphasizes the public’s right to know how these systems determine risk and what consequences flagged individuals face.
The use of Giant Oak Search Technology (GOST) by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shines a light on the increasingly powerful role of technology in immigration enforcement. While it offers analysts a comprehensive view of an individual’s online presence, the controversies surrounding the system’s use call for greater transparency and accountability. As technology continues to shape immigration policies, it is crucial to strike a balance between security concerns and the protection of civil liberties.