By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of rights groups launched an online petition on Thursday urging IBM Corp to renounce a Trump administration proposal to use technology to identify people for visa denial and deportation from the United States.
Chip maker IBM has been targeted because, alongside several other companies and contractors, it attended a July informational session hosted by immigration enforcement officials that discussed developing technology for vetting, said Steven Renderos, organising director at petitioner the Center for Media Justice.
The use of such technology would run counter to the company's goals to protect so-called "Dreamer" immigrants from deportation, the rights groups said.
The petition is tied to a broader advocacy campaign, also begun Thursday, that objects to the "Extreme Vetting Initiative" being pursued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The vetting move is in alignment with President Donald Trump's desire to harden screening procedures for immigrants entering the country.
IBM did not respond when asked about the petition or its potential work on the Extreme Vetting Initiative.
ICE wants to use machine learning technology and social media monitoring to determine whether an individual is a "positively contributing member of society," according to documents published on federal contracting websites in recent months.
More than 50 civil society groups and more than 50 technical experts sent separate letters to the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday saying the vetting programme as described was "tailor-made for discrimination" and that artificial intelligence was unable to provide the information ICE desired.
Trump has said such procedures are necessary to protect national security and curtail illegal immigration.
The pressure on IBM is the latest example of technology companies attracting public scrutiny for even the possibility of working with the Trump administration, despite their disagreements with the government on policies ranging from immigration to trade.
Shortly after the presidential election last year, for example, several internet firms pledged to not help Trump build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations.
IBM is among dozens of technology companies to join a legal briefing opposing Trump's decision to end the 'Dreamer' programme that protects from deportation about 900,000 immigrants brought illegally into the United States as children.
"While on the one hand they've expressed their support for Dreamers, they're also considering building a platform that would make it easier to deport them," Renderos said.
CREDO, Daily Kos, and Color of Change also organised the petition.
In an Oct. 5 email seen by Reuters, Christopher Padilla, IBM's vice president of government affairs, wrote that it was "premature to speculate" whether IBM would pursue business related to the Extreme Vetting Initiative because the meeting the company attended was only informational.
IBM "would not work on any project that runs counter to our company's values, including our long-standing opposition to discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion," Padilla added. His email was in response to an inquiry about the vetting programme from the nonprofit group Open Mic.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington, additional reporting by Salvador Rodriguez in San Francisco, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)