Tool for Surveillance or Spotlight on Inequality? Big Data and the Law

Paper by Rebecca A. Johnson and Tanina Rostain: “The rise of big data and machine learning is a polarizing force among those studying inequality and the law. Big data and tools like predictive modeling may amplify inequalities in the law, subjecting vulnerable individuals to enhanced surveillance. But these data and tools may also serve an opposite function, shining a spotlight on inequality and subjecting powerful institutions to enhanced oversight. We begin with a typology of the role of big data in inequality and the law. The typology asks questions—Which type of individual or institutional actor holds the data? What problem is the actor trying to use the data to solve?—that help situate the use of big data within existing scholarship on law and inequality. We then highlight the dual uses of big data and computational methods—data for surveillance and data as a spotlight—in three areas of law: rental housing, child welfare, and opioid prescribing. Our review highlights asymmetries where the lack of data infrastructure to measure basic facts about inequality within the law has impeded the spotlight function….(More)”.