4 August 2020 — Foxglove
Wonderful news – our legal challenge has forced the government to abandon its racist visa algorithm.
Lawyers from the Home Office wrote to us yesterday afternoon. The Home Secretary Priti Patel has agreed to scrap the visa streaming algorithm from this Friday – and pledged a full review of the system, including for issues of ‘unconscious bias’ and discrimination.
We worked with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) to bring this challenge because the algorithm entrenched racism and bias in the visa system. The Home Office kept a secret list of suspect nationalities, automatically tagged as ‘high risk,’ and likely to be refused a visa. We also discovered that the algorithm had ‘feedback loop’ problems, which plague many such automated systems. Past bias and discrimination, fed into a computer program, reinforce future bias and discrimination.
This is the first successful judicial review of a UK government algorithmic decision-making system. So it’s a huge milestone.
Make no mistake, the government has big plans to increase its use of algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence. But there’s an alarming lack of transparency about where these tools are used, and an even more alarming lack of safeguards to prevent biased and unfair software ruining people’s lives.
We started Foxglove last year because we believe in democracy–not opaque and unaccountable technocracy. We use the law to fight for a future where technology is used to benefit everyone, not abused to serve the interests of governments and elites. It’s a safe bet that this won’t be the last time we’ll need to challenge a government algorithm in the courts.
It’s only a couple of months since the success of our legal challenge to stop the government signing secret NHS data deals with private companies. That’s two huge pieces of proof that Foxglove’s strategy is working – although there’s so much more still to do.
You’re an early supporter of Foxglove. Thank you for being part of it. If you’re inspired by the impact we are having, please consider supporting our work with a regular donation. And please also forward this email to anyone you think might be inspired by what we do – the more people that get involved with Foxglove, the more impact we can have together.
Here’s to taking the government to court and winning!
Cori & Martha