Police warned about using algorithms to decide who’s locked up

This week, on Tuesday 14th November 2017, the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee took oral evidence on the use of algorithms in decision making.

BBC News reported on the session in this article – Police warned about using algorithms to decide who’s locked up:

Police should not keep suspects locked up because a computer program has told them they are likely to be offenders, a human rights group has told MPs.

Algorithms that predict whether someone is a criminal based on past behaviour, gender and where they live could be “discriminatory”, Liberty said.

The human rights group was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee.

The MPs are investigating the growing use of algorithms in decision making.

They are concerned businesses and public bodies are relying on computer programs to make life-changing decisions – despite the potential scope for errors and misunderstandings.

Durham Police have already launched a system which uses algorithms to help decide whether to keep a suspect in custody.

The Harm Assessment Risk Tool (HART) uses historical data on offending to classify suspects as low, medium or high risk of offending.

The tool uses information such as offending history, the type of crime a suspect has been accused of, their postcode and gender.

But Silkie Carlo, Senior Advocacy Officer for Liberty, warned such systems should be seen as “at best advisory”.

She pointed to evidence from the US which suggested algorithms in the criminal justice system were more likely to incorrectly judge black defendants as having a higher risk of reoffending than white defendants.

Durham Police stress that use of the algorithm’s decision is “advisory” and officers can use their discretion.

But Professor Louise Amoore of Durham University warned it can be “difficult” for a human “to make a decision against the grain of the algorithm”.

Ms Carlo said Liberty had requested data from Durham Police about how common the use of human discretion was in decisions using algorithms, but the request was rejected.

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Technology and human rights in 2017

Below is a transcript of my talk at Liberty’s 2017 Annual General Meeting:

We have the extraordinary challenge, and the privilege, of being at a unique and vital axis in time – the precipice of a seismic technological revolution. As the world rapidly changes, our struggle to uphold, entrench, and extend human rights at the core of it is a struggle that’s outcome will certainly outlive us.

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We often pair technology and surveillance, because new ‘smart’ and internet connected technologies are used for surveillance, tracking, and data collection. If the industrial revolution was fueled by oil, the technological revolution is being fueled by data – a valuable commodity that is being mined and exploited at almost any cost. Protecting privacy is the environmental challenge of the information age. It is fundamental to the sustainability of a healthy democratic society.

As technological innovation grows, so too do the opportunities to embed surveillance in all aspects of everyday life.

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Surveillance has taken root from the phones in our pockets, and is increasingly creeping into the home.

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