Comments by Sanwar Ali:
The scrapping of the “racist” UK visa software based algorithm is good news. Eventually, after a great deal of trouble, this system has now been scrapped. However, why is it necessary to go to so much trouble? Why does everyone have to fight to stop this sort of discrimination? Is the system so lacking in basic decency that we have to expose discriminatory practices in the media, and start Court proceedings to try and persuade the Government and Home Office officials to do the right thing?
Why is it that large sums of money continue to be spent by the Government to defend shocking cases of institutional racism, and other forms of racism by the Government and officials? Too much of the time the Government Legal Department uses ruthless and underhand tactics to win cases and cover up injustice. Morality and Justice seems to be of little concern.
The best selling books by the Secret Barrister deals extensively with injustice and discrimination in the Court system. Why should it be necessary for the Secret Barrister to hide his identity (we believe he is a man)? One barrister and Judge Peter Herbert who is partly of black ancestry dared to criticise another Judge. He was threatened with suspension. He had to go to the Employment Tribunal to seek justice.
A controversial algorithm used by the Home Office to screen UK visa applicants since 2015, was scrapped on 7 August 2020. The decision to ditch the tool came after a legal challenge from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Foxglove. The algorithm has been heavily criticised over the years for being ‘racist’ and ‘discriminatory’.
The Home Office confirmed that it would discontinue using the tool in its current form and said that its ‘interim replacement would not take nationality into account.’ The controversial tool has been blasted for immediately issuing a ‘red flag’ for UK visa applications made by nationals from certain countries, mostly African.
JCWI’s legal policy director, Chai Patel, said: “The Home Office’s own independent review of the Windrush scandal found it was oblivious to the racist assumptions and systems it operates.”
“This streaming tool took decades of institutionally racist practices, such as targeting particular nationalities for immigration raids, and turned them into software. The immigration system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up to monitor such bias and to root it out,” Patel added.
High Court legal challenge by JCWI and Foxglove
As part of their legal challenge in the High Court, JCWI and Foxglove – a technology justice campaign group – argued that the controversial algorithm was categorising immigrants using three channels, one of which was a so-called ‘fast lane’ that would ‘speed up the application process for white people’ from favourable countries as determined by the tool.
Campaigners claim that the algorithm functions as a traffic light system, with red, amber and green used to calculate risks posed by UK visa applicants.
The tool bases its scores on visa denial rates for each country, which meant that people of several nationalities were immediately considered a high risk, not based on them as an individual, but because their home country has a high visa denial rate.
In a letter, Home Office solicitors wrote: “Priti Patel has decided that she will discontinue the use of the streaming tool to assess visa applications, pending a substitute review of its operation.”
Software based Tool to be redesigned
It’s understood that the controversial digital streaming tool will now be ‘redesigned’. The letter from Home Office solicitors said: “In the course of that redesign, our client intends carefully to consider and assess the points you have raised in your claim including, issues around unconscious bias and the use of nationality generally in the streaming tool.”
However, the letter seemingly challenges the claims made by JCWI and Foxglove as part of their legal challenge, with the Home Office solicitors saying: “For clarity, the fact of the redesign does not mean that the secretary of state for the home department accepts the allegations in your claim form.”
Democracy needed instead of software algorithm
The founder and director of Foxglove, Cori Crider, said: “What’s needed is democracy, not secret algorithms in place of government. Before any more technology gets rolled out, let’s consult the public on whether automation is even appropriate and develop systems that are transparent and accountable, so that bias can be dug out at the root.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We have been reviewing how the visa application streaming tool operates and will be redesigning our processes to make them even more streamlined and secure.”
“However, we do not accept the allegations Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants made in their judicial review claim and whilst litigation is still ongoing it would not be appropriate for the department to comment any further.”
The successful legal challenge brought by the JCWI and Foxglove is understood to be the first of its kind against algorithm-driven decision-making technology in Britain.
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