Citizenship office wants ‘Emma’ to help you

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services unveiled a new virtual assistant live-chat service, known as “Emma,” to assist customers and website visitors in finding information and answering questions in a timely and efficient fashion.

The agency told FedScoop that it built the chatbot with the help of Verizon and artificial intelligence interface company Next IT. The goal  is “to address the growing need for customers to obtain information quicker and through multiple access points, USCIS broadened the traditional call center business model to include web-based self-help tools,” the agency says.

USCIS, a component agency of the Department of Homeland Security, says it receives nearly 14 million calls relating to immigration every year. The virtual assistant and live-chat services are aimed at becoming the first line of help available to users of USCIS.gov who might have trouble finding answers by themselves.

The bot greets customers when they enter the website, answers basic questions via live chat and supplies additional information in both English and Spanish. As a result, the amount of time customers spend searching for information on the website is greatly reduced, according to USCIS. Because the virtual assistant is embedded within the website, it can rapidly provide relevant information that may have been difficult to access manually.

The nature of the bot lends itself to potential encounters with personally identifiable information (PII), or PII, of the customers it interacts with. Because of this, USCIS recently conducted a privacy impact assessment (PIA).

Much of the assessment revolved around accuracy and the security of information that Emma could potentially encounter in a customer interaction. For the most part, the chat bot doesn’t require customers to submit personal information. Instead, it draws its responses from content already available on USCIS.gov, relative to the amount of information that users choose to provide. Answers are, according to the PIA, verified by thorough and frequent examination of all content posted to the site.

According to USCIS, the Emma will delete all chat logs — and therefore all PII — immediately after the customer ends the chat session. Should a customer reach a question that it can’t answer effectively and choose to continue the session with an agent in a live chat, the bot will ask for the preferred language (English or Spanish), the general topic of conversation, short comments on why the customer wishes to speak with a live agent, and the case on file and receipt number.

This information would then be transferred to the live agent. All other sensitive information entered, such as Social Security numbers or receipt numbers, would then be automatically masked in the subsequent transfer to the live agent.

The virtual assistant does gather and store data on the date and time of the interaction, the in-site content that it references within the chat, and the IP addresses and technical data of the session for two years.

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chat bots, Department of Homeland Security, Immigration, Next IT, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS, Verizon, virtual assistant