An Obsolete Paradigm


Blogpost by Paul Wormelli: “…Our national system of describing the extent of crime in the U.S. is broken beyond repair and deserves to be replaced by a totally new paradigm (system). 

Since 1930, we have relied on the metrics generated by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program to describe crime in the U.S., but it simply does not do so, even with its evolution into the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Criminologists have long recognized the limited scope of the UCR summary crime data, leading to the creation of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and other supplementary crime data measurement vehicles. However, despite these measures, the United States still has no comprehensive national data on the amount of crime that has occurred. Even after decades of collecting data, the 1968 Presidential Crime Commission report on the Challenge of Crime in a Free Society lamented the absence of sound and complete data on crime in the U.S., and called for the creation of a National Crime Survey (NCS) that eventually led to the creation of the NCVS. Since then, we have slowly attempted to make improvements that will lead to more robust data. Only in 2021 did the FBI end UCR summary-based crime data collection and move to NIBRS crime data collection on a national scale.

Admittedly, the shift to NIBRS will unleash a sea change in how we analyze crime data and use it for decision making. However, it still lacks the completeness of national crime reporting. In the landmark study of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Statistics (funded by the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics to make recommendations on modernizing crime statistics), the panel members grappled with this reality and called out the absence of national statistics on crime that would fully inform policymaking on this critical subject….(More)”

When Machines Can Be Judge, Jury, and Executioner


Book by Katherine B Forrest on “Justice in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”: “This book explores justice in the age of artificial intelligence. It argues that current AI tools used in connection with liberty decisions are based on utilitarian frameworks of justice and inconsistent with individual fairness reflected in the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. It uses AI risk assessment tools and lethal autonomous weapons as examples of how AI influences liberty decisions. The algorithmic design of AI risk assessment tools can and does embed human biases. Designers and users of these AI tools have allowed some degree of compromise to exist between accuracy and individual fairness.

Written by a former federal judge who lectures widely and frequently on AI and the justice system, this book is the first comprehensive presentation of the theoretical framework of AI tools in the criminal justice system and lethal autonomous weapons utilized in decision-making. The book then provides a comprehensive explanation as to why, tracing the evolution of the debate regarding racial and other biases embedded in such tools. No other book delves as comprehensively into the theory and practice of AI risk assessment tools….(More)”.

Manipulation As Theft


Paper by Cass Sunstein: “Should there be a right not to be manipulated? What kind of right? On Kantian grounds, manipulation, lies, and paternalistic coercion are moral wrongs, and for similar reasons; they deprive people of agency, insult their dignity, and fail to respect personal autonomy. On welfarist grounds, manipulation, lies, and paternalistic coercion share a different characteristic; they displace the choices of those whose lives are directly at stake, and who are likely to have epistemic advantages, with the choices of outsiders, who are likely to lack critical information. Kantians and welfarists should be prepared to endorse a (moral) right not to be manipulated, though on very different grounds.

The moral prohibition on manipulation, like the moral prohibition on lies, should run against officials and regulators, not only against private institutions. At the same time, the creation of a legal right not to be manipulated raises hard questions, in part because of definitional challenges; there is a serious risk of vagueness and a serious risk of overbreadth. (Lies, as such, are not against the law, and the same is true of unkindness, inconsiderateness, and even cruelty.) With welfarist considerations in mind, it is probably best to start by prohibiting particular practices, while emphasizing that they are forms of manipulation and may not count as fraud. The basic goal should be to build on the claim that in certain cases, manipulation is a form of theft; the law should forbid theft, whether it occurs through force, lies, or manipulation. Some manipulators are thieves….(More)”

Virtual Juries


Paper by Valerie P. Hans: “The introduction of virtual or remote jury trials in response to the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a remarkable natural experiment with one of our nation’s central democratic institutions. Although it is not a tightly controlled experimental study, real world experiences in this natural experiment offer some insights about how key features of trial by jury are affected by a virtual procedure. This article surveys the landscape of virtual jury trials. It examines the issues of jury representativeness, the adequacy of virtual jury selection, the quality of decision making, and the public’s access to jury trial proceedings. Many have expressed concern that the digital divide would negatively affect jury representativeness. Surprisingly, there is some preliminary evidence that suggests that virtual jury selection procedures lead to jury venires that are as diverse, if not more diverse, than pre-pandemic jury venires. Lawyers in a demonstration project reacted favorably to virtual voir dire when it was accompanied by expansive pretrial juror questionnaires and the opportunity to question prospective jurors. A number of courts provided public access by live streaming jury trials. How a virtual jury trial affects jurors’ interpretations of witness testimony, attorney arguments, and jury deliberation remain open questions….(More)”

What Data About You Can the Government Get From Big Tech?


 Jack Nicas at the New York Times: “The Justice Department, starting in the early days of the Trump administration, secretly sought data from some of the biggest tech companies about journalistsDemocratic lawmakers and White House officials as part of wide-ranging investigations into leaks and other matters, The New York Times reported last week.

The revelations, which put the companies in the middle of a clash over the Trump administration’s efforts to find the sources of news coverage, raised questions about what sorts of data tech companies collect on their users, and how much of it is accessible to law enforcement authorities.

Here’s a rundown:

All sorts. Beyond basic data like users’ names, addresses and contact information, tech companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook also often have access to the contents of their users’ emails, text messages, call logs, photos, videos, documents, contact lists and calendars.

Most of it is. But which data law enforcement can get depends on the sort of request they make.

Perhaps the most common and basic request is a subpoena. U.S. government agencies and prosecutors can often issue subpoenas without approval from a judge, and lawyers can issue them as part of open court cases. Subpoenas are often used to cast a wide net for basic information that can help build a case and provide evidence needed to issue more powerful requests….(More)”.

Assessing the social and emotional costs of mass shootings with Twitter data


Article by Mary Blankenship and Carol Graham: “Mass shootings that result in mass casualties are almost a weekly occasion in the United States, which—not coincidentally—also has the most guns per capita in the world. Viewed from outside the U.S., it seems that Americans are not bothered by the constant deadly gun violence and have simply adapted to it. Yet, our analysis of the well-being costs of gun violence—using Twitter data to track real-time responses throughout the course of these appalling events—suggest that is not necessarily the case. We focus on the two March 2021 shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, and compare to similar data for the “1 October” (Las Vegas) and El Paso shootings a few years prior. (Details on our methodology can be found at the end of this blog.)

A reason for the one-sided debate on guns is that beyond the gruesome body counts, we do not have many tools for assessing the large—but unobservable—effects of this violence on family members, friends, and neighbors of the victims, as well as on society in general. By assessing how emotions evolve over time, real changes can be seen in Twitter messages. Our analysis shows that society is increasingly angered by gun violence, rather than simply adapting to it.

A striking characteristic of the response to the 1 October shooting is the immediate influx of users sending their thoughts and players to the victims and the Las Vegas community. Figure 1 shows the top emoji usage and “praying hands” being the most frequently used emoji. Although that is still the most used emoji in response to the other shootings, the margin between “praying hands” and other emojis has substantially decreased in recent responses to Atlanta and Boulder. Our focus is on the “yellow face” emojis, which can correlate to six primary emotions categories: surprise, sadness, disgust, fear, anger, and neutral. While the majority of face emojis reflect emotions of sadness in the 1 October and El Paso shooting, new emojis like the “red angry face” show greater feelings of anger in the Atlanta and Boulder shootings shown in Figure 3….(More)”.

Figure 1. Top 10 emojis used in response to the 1 October shooting

Top 10 emojis used in response to the 1 October shooting

Source: Authors

Zoom Court Is Changing How Justice Is Served


Eric Scigliano at The Atlantic: “…Last spring, as COVID‑19 infections surged for the first time, many American courts curtailed their operations. As case backlogs swelled, courts moved online, at a speed that has amazed—and sometimes alarmed—judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. In the past year, U.S. courts have conducted millions of hearings, depositions, arraignments, settlement conferences, and even trials—nearly entirely in civil cases or for minor criminal offenses—over Zoom and other meeting platforms. As of late February, Texas, the state that’s moved online most aggressively, had held 1.1 million remote proceedings.

“Virtual justice” (the preferred, if unsettling, term) is an emergency response to a dire situation. But it is also a vision some judicial innovators had long tried to realize. One leading booster, Michigan Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, told me that going online can make courts not only safer but “more transparent, more accessible, and more convenient.” Witnesses, jurors, and litigants no longer need to miss hours of work and fight traffic. Attorneys with cases in multiple courts can jump from one to another by swiping on their phones.

In July the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators jointly endorsed a set of “Guiding Principles for Post-pandemic Court Technology” with a blunt message: The legal system should “move as many court processes as possible online,” and keep them there after the risk of infection passes. The pandemic, they wrote, “is not the disruption courts wanted, but it is the disruption that courts needed.”

America’s courts are burdened by weighty encrustations of complexity and habit, from black robes and “All rise” to arcane trial procedures. COVID-19 has forced them to improvise and experiment. Now, as a post-pandemic future glimmers, we have a chance to reflect. How much of that experimentation will survive after the crisis abates? Given the stakes involved in the justice system, how much should?…(More)”.

Liberation Technology


Tim Keary at the Stanford Social Innovation Review: “Human traffickers have forced hundreds of women, children, and men into sexual slavery in Colombia during the past decade. According to Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior and Justice, 686 cases of human trafficking occurred within the country from January 2013 to July 2020. Many of those seized were women, children, and Venezuelan migrants.

To combat this crime, Migración Colombia, the nation’s border control agency; the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM); and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a mobile application called LibertApp last July. Pressing the app’s panic button immediately sends the user’s live geolocation data to the Colombian Ministry of the Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking Operations Center (COAT), where an expert anti-trafficking team investigates the report.

The app also functions as a resource hub for information and prevention. It offers an educational module (available in both English and Spanish) that explains what human trafficking is, who is the most at risk, and the most common strategies that traffickers use to isolate and exploit victims. LibertApp also includes a global directory of consulates’ contact information that users can access for support.

While COAT and Migración Colombia now manage the app, IOM, an international organization that supports migrant communities and advises national governments on migration policy, developed the original concept, provided technical support, created user profiles, and built the educational module. IOM saw LibertApp as a new tool to support high-risk groups such as Venezuelan migrants and refugees. “It is necessary to permanently search for different strategies for the prevention of trafficking” and to ensure the “rescue of victims who are in Colombia or abroad,” says Ana Durán-Salvatierra, IOM Colombia’s chief of mission….

PRM funded the app, which had a budget of $15,000. The investment was part of the department’s overall contribution through the United Nations appeal known as the Refugee and Migrant Response Plan, a global initiative that had granted a total of $276.4 million to Colombia as of November 2020.

In less than a year of operation, 246 people have used the app to make reports, culminating in a handful of investigations and rescues. The most notable success story occurred last summer when COAT received a report from LibertApp that led to the rescue of a Venezuelan minor from a bar in Maní, in the Casanare region of Colombia, that was being run as a brothel. During the raid, authorities captured two Colombian citizens alleged to have managed the establishment and who coerced 15 women into sexual slavery….(More)”

How One State Managed to Actually Write Rules on Facial Recognition


Kashmir Hill at The New York Times: “Though police have been using facial recognition technology for the last two decades to try to identify unknown people in their investigations, the practice of putting the majority of Americans into a perpetual photo lineup has gotten surprisingly little attention from lawmakers and regulators. Until now.

Lawmakers, civil liberties advocates and police chiefs have debated whether and how to use the technology because of concerns about both privacy and accuracy. But figuring out how to regulate it is tricky. So far, that has meant an all-or-nothing approach. City Councils in Oakland, Portland, San FranciscoMinneapolis and elsewhere have banned police use of the technology, largely because of bias in how it works. Studies in recent years by MIT researchers and the federal government found that many facial recognition algorithms are most accurate for white men, but less so for everyone else.

At the same time, automated facial recognition has become a powerful investigative tool, helping to identify child molesters and, in a recent high-profile example, people who participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Law enforcement officials in Vermont want the state’s ban lifted because there “could be hundreds of kids waiting to be saved.”

That’s why a new law in Massachusetts is so interesting: It’s not all or nothing. The state managed to strike a balance on regulating the technology, allowing law enforcement to harness the benefits of the tool, while building in protections that might prevent the false arrests that have happened before….(More)”.

Guide to Good Practice on the Use of New Technologies for the Administration of Justice


Report by México Evalúa: “This document offers a brief review of decisions, initiatives and implementation processes of various policies designed by the judiciary to incorporate the use of new technologies in their work. We are interested in highlighting the role that these tools can play not only in diversifying the means through which the public accesses the service of imparting justice, but also in facilitating and improving the organization of work in the courts and tribunals. We also analyzed the way in which the application of certain technological developments in justiciary tasks, in particular tele or videoconferences, has redefined the traditional structure of the judicial proceeding by allowing remote, simultaneous and collective interaction of the subjects involved. We also reflect on the dilemmas, viability and not always intended effects of the use of new technologies in the administration of justice.

(…)

We chose to analyze them from the focus of the procedural moment in which they intervene, that is, from the user’s perspective, because although technological solutions may have a wide range of objectives, it seems to us that, behind any technological development, the goal of facilitating, expanding and improving citizens’ access to justice should always prevail. We report several experiences aimed at reorganizing the processing of legal proceedings in the various phases that structure them, from the activation stage procedural (filing of lawsuit or judicialization of a criminal investigation) to the execution of court rulings (judgments, arbitral awards), passing through the processing of cases (hearings, proceedings). We would like to emphasize that access to justice includes everything from the processing of cases to the timely enforcement of court rulings. That vision can be summarized with the following figure:…(More)”.