The Intercept reported that on 18 and 19 July, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations department had hosted an industry day for companies interested in building the system. Trump promised such a system during his campaigning for the 2016 presidential election.
However, the interest was so great that the event, held at the Crystal City Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, had to be extended into a second day.
Trump promulgated a 90-day ban on entry for people from seven mainly Muslim majority countries - Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan - shortly after he took office; this was blocked by the courts which later allowed a modified version of it to stand. Iraq is no longer among the countries covered by the ban.
More recently, Trump announced that legal immigration to the US would be cut by half.
The Intercept said a document from ICE claimed that the current vetting practices were not sufficient to evaluate whether a prospective immigrant would indulge in criminal behaviour or become a terrorist. It was described as being "fragmented across mission areas and are both time-consuming and manually labour-intensive due to complexities in the current US immigration system".
The system that is being sought is one “that automates, centralises, and streamlines the current manual vetting process while simultaneously making determinations via automation if the data retrieved is actionable” in order to “implement the president’s various executive orders that address American immigration and border protection security and interests".
The report said the vetting appeared to be targetting what ICE calls “non-immigrants” - foreigners seeking "temporary entry to the United States for a specific purpose".
One of the attendees raised a question about the FBI's attempt to build a similar system some years ago which failed to go ahead because of opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union. ICE officials apparently answered that a move against non-citizens would be less likely to attract opposition from civil liberties groups.
The system is meant to scrape all data that is available on the public Internet, with the following having been specified:
"The Contractor shall analyse and apply techniques to exploit publicly available information, such as media, blogs, public hearings, conferences, academic websites, social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, radio, television, press, geospatial sources, internet sites, and specialised publications with intent to extract pertinent information regarding targets, including criminals, fugitives, non-immigrant violators, and targeted national security threats and their location."