This year's Data & Civil Rights conference focused on the issues presented by a new technologically mediated era of criminal justice and policing.

Working sessions explored:

  • The implications of police body-worn cameras
  • Social media tracking by law enforcement
  • The use of biometrics in law enforcement and genetic material as evidence
  • Predictive policing
  • Predictive algorithms in sentencing and risk assessment tools
  • How open data can advance accountability in a criminal justice context

Concerns about criminal justice are not new. But increased nation-wide attention to the stories of unarmed black men killed by civilians and police (from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown), the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the use of military technologies in policing and border control, and the strengthening of public conversations around policing and mass incarceration have lent new energy to efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

Police-worn body cameras have received widespread attention as a potential technological enhancement for police accountability, and other new technologies are working their way through all parts of the criminal justice process with little assessment. The White House has proposed a Police Data Initiative to invite researchers and the public to engage with data to hold law enforcement accountable. Meanwhile, a growing number of companies are introducing new data-oriented technologies into prisons or seeking to minimize discriminatory biases in decision-making through technology.

These efforts are well intentioned but little understood. Their impact remains to be seen; some may prove helpful while others may turn out to amplify the problems they are meant to address.

The 2015 Data & Civil Rights Conference brought together people working at the intersection of technology and criminal justice who are committed to creating a more fair and just society. We convened law enforcement officers, government agencies, technology companies, civil rights leaders, technologists, and researchers to learn more about what is happening, what should be happening, and what answers are still needed. This conference aimed to help people across the criminal justice ecosystem learn from each other, and to support the move toward a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system.

Contact: [email protected]

Dante Barry on Million Hoodies for Justice
Brent Berkley (Taser) on Police Body-Worn Cameras
Alondra Nelson on Genetic Data and Privacy
Kevin Keenan, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Zeke Edwards (ACLU) on how we can use data to make a culture change
Courtney Bowman (Palantir Technologies) on Predicitve Policing Level-Setting
Cynthia Jones on Race and Bail in America
Matthew Bailey on Open Data, Open Government and Inclusion
Jeff Brantingham on Predictive Policing
Judith Browne Dianis (Advancement Project)
Nkechi Taifa (Open Society Foundations) on the Impact of Mandatory Minimums and Sentencing Disparities
Ravi Shroff on Machine Learning in Criminal Justice Context
Sorelle Friedler on Discriminatory Machine Learning
Samuel Sinyangwe (We The Protestors) on Mapping Police Violence
Phillip A. Goff (Center for Policing Equity) and Dorian Warren (Roosevelt Institute) Fireside Chat

Event Materials

Overview Criminal Justice and Civil Rights

New technology has provided an increasingly ubiquitous tool with the potential to build trust between police and the communities they serve and help enhance accountability and transparency in policing and the justice system overall. At the same time, the arrival of new technology does not guarantee that a police agency will better protect the civil rights of the community it serves. Such technology could also be used to intensify disproportionate surveillance and disproportionate enforcement in heavily policed communities of color. Without the right safeguards, there is a real risk that these new tools could become instruments of injustice.

Workshops Police Body-Worn Cameras

Following the August 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent nationwide protests around police-citizen violence towards men and women of color, body-worn cameras (hereafter BWCs) are being adopted by police departments, including 16 of the country's 20 largest departments as well as a range of other departments that have received funding from the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs. Public outrage from the wide circulation of citizen-captured footage of police shootings helped shape the conversation around the need for accountability, sparking the hope that camera-equipped police forces would extend a greater degree of transparency. But while some prosecutions in police shooting cases have resulted from BWC footage, the public's access to footage varies, with some departments requiring a court order to obtain access, or other restrictions. Critics argue that some BWC policies undermine their potential to uphold civil rights.

Social Media Surveillance and Law Enforcement
According to a 2014 LexisNexis online survey, eighty percent of federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals use social media platforms as an intelligence gathering tool, but most lack policies governing the use of social media for investigations. Law enforcement agencies utilize social media for a wide range of reasons, including: discovering criminal activity, obtaining probable cause for search warrants, collecting evidence for court hearings, pinpointing the location of criminals, witness identification, as well as broadcasting information and soliciting tips from the public. Social media surveillance includes both manual and automated practices, and methods may be targeted or general.
Biometric technologies are rapidly finding use in a variety of policing contexts, and their use is expected to grow as these technologies become more accurate, cost-effective and accessible to law enforcement agencies. Since 2008, the FBI has been assembling a new biometrics database, the Next Generation Identification system (NGI), since 2008. This $1 billion program will combine fingerprints, iris scans, facial recognition, voice data and other biometrics into a multimodal database, greatly expanding the amount of data searchable by federal and state agencies. Other existing biometric databases such as the National DNA Index System may be interoperable with this system. At the same time, new technologies, as well as new laws and regulations, have widened the conditions under which law enforcement agencies can collect, store, and share biometric data.
Predictive Policing
Predictive policing refers to the use of analytical techniques to make statistical predictions about potential criminal activity. The basic underlying assumption of predictive policing is that crime is not randomly distributed across people and places, holding that big data can be used to forecast when and where crimes may be more likely to occur, and which individuals are likely to be victims or perpetrators of crimes.
Courts and Predictive Algorithms
One of the most striking innovations in the criminal justice system during the past thirty years has been the introduction of actuarial methods – statistical models and software programs –designed to help judges and prosecutors assess the risk of criminal offenders. Predictive algorithms are currently used in four major areas of the U.S. criminal justice system: pretrial and bail, sentencing, probation and parole, and juvenile justice. These algorithms consider a small number of variables about a defendant – either connected to her or his criminal history (previous offenses, failure to appear in court, violent offenses, etc.) or socio-demographic characteristics (age, sex, employment status, drug history, etc.) – in an effort to predict a defendant's risk of recidivism or their likelihood to fail to appear in court if they are let out on bail.
Open Data
Public calls for data and transparency about police actions have increased in light of widely publicized incidents and patterns of police violence. Opening more data to the public about police actions is one reform recommended by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. It also has become a key component of the Police Data Initiative (PDI), a pilot program launched by President Obama in May 2015 that brings together federal government agencies, local police departments, community organizers, and industry stakeholders to increase transparency in policing and improve trust between communities and police departments. As of fall 2015, 26 police departments, a tiny fraction of the 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies operating across the country, have signed on to participate in the PDI by pledging to release more than 100 previously unshared data sets on police-citizen interactions.


9:00-9:30Registration & Breakfast
9:30-10:00Host Introductions
10:00-12:00Fire Starters & Discussions
Matthew Bailey
Dante Barry
Brent Berkley
Courtney Bowman
Jeff Brantingham
Judith Browne-Dianis
Zeke Edwards
Sorelle Friedler
Cynthia Jones
Kevin Keenan
Alondra Nelson
Linda Sarsour
Samuel Sinyangwe
Ravi Shroff
Nkechi Taifa
1:00-2:30Workshops, pt. 1
Police Body-Worn Cameras
Social Media Surveillance and Law Enforcement
Predictive Policing
Courts & Predictive Algorithms
Open Data
2:30-2:45Break with Refreshments
2:45-4:00Workshops, pt.2 (return to your assigned room)
4:00-5:00 Fireside Chat
Phillip A. Goff - President, Center for Policing Equity
Dorian Warren - Fellow, Roosevelt Institute
5:30-7:30Reception Dinner