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Expat Israeli rights activist says algorithm led him to be barred from US

An expat Israeli architect who investigates human rights violations worldwide has said he was barred from entering the US to attend the opening on an exhibition after an algorithm flagged him as a potential security threat.

Eyal Weizman heads London-based research group Forensic Architecture, which uses modern architectural technology, interviews, media reports and site visits to look into potential rights abuses around the world — including in Syria, Venezuela and Israel and the Palestinian territories.

An exhibition documenting the organization’s work was to open at Miami’s Museum of Art and Design on Wednesday, with Weizman set to attend.

But in a statement, Weizman, who is also a professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, said that he was notified by US authorities two days prior to his intended travel date that his authorization to enter the country under the US visa waiver program had been revoked.

Arriving at the US Embassy in London to inquire, he was told that an algorithm had identified him as a threat. A US official “said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had traveled… hotels at which I stayed, or a certain pattern of relations among these things,” Weizman said.

“I was asked to supply the embassy with additional information, including fifteen years of travel history, in particular where I had gone and who had paid for it. The officer said that Homeland Security’s investigators could assess my case more promptly if I supplied the names of anyone in my network whom I believed might have triggered the algorithm. I declined to provide this information,” he added.

Weizman noted that through his work in the human rights field he was in contact with various “vulnerable communities, activists and experts.” He expressed alarm that the “relations among our colleagues, stakeholders, and staff are being targeted by the US government as security threats.”

A spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection told the Guardian it has the authority “to refer any individuals for additional screening about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk. These referrals are based on multiple factors that could include a combination of an individual’s activities, associations, and travel patterns.”

Weizman has been a vociferous critic of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians and his organization has investigated alleged violations in Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip during the 2008, 2009 and 2014 conflicts there.

Forensic Architecture was nominated for 2018’s Turner Prize for British visual artists for its investigation into the killing of an Israeli Bedouin man in the Negev village of Umm al-Hiran.

Police shot dead Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an during a police raid in the village that turned violent. Though officials initially insisted Al-Qia’an attempted to ram officers in an act of terror, severe doubt has been cast on that claim.

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