Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Correcting False Positives: Redress and the Watch List Conundrum

Paul Rosenzweig and Jeff Jonas have an excellent paper, Correcting False Positives: Redress and the Watch List Conundrum at the Heritage Foundation on the problems associated with getting errors corrected on watch lists associated with programs like Secure Flight.

"The greatest difficulties of all in developing a watch list system may lie in the construction of such a redress process. It must be effective in clear­ing those wrongly matched or wrongly listed. But at the same time, it must have protections against being spoofed, lest terrorists go through the clear­ing process to get “clean” before committing wrongful acts.

But equally problematic, the process will likely not be able to meet traditional standards of com­plete transparency in an adversarial context. For often disclosure of the information, its source, and the algorithms that lie behind the watch-list­ing system will undermine its utility for identify­ing suspicious individuals. Yet, the failure to disclose this information will deprive an affected individual of a full and fair opportunity to contest a misidentification.

What will be necessary are the concepts of cali­brated and substituted transparency, where alter­nate mechanisms of dispute resolution are used. Those are fairly rare in American legal structures and will require careful thought. By and large, these mechanisms are policy and process related and are external to the technologies themselves. But they must be developed at the same time as the technology, for the absence of an answer to the redress question may doom even the most compel­ling watch list system."

They go on to describe the components of an idealised redress process.

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