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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Liberty, Amnesty, Big Brother Watch, Privacy International & Others Challenge UK Government on mass surveillance at European Court of Human Rights

Last week, I was in Strasbourg for a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights for Liberty & others’ challenge to the UK Government’s bulk interception regime as exposed in the Snowden documents.

Programs revealed in the Snowden documents like ‘Tempora’ allowed GCHQ to intercept and store a back-up of all communications entering and leaving the UK via fibre-optic cables, for retrospective analysis.

The challenge was launched in 2013 by multiple NGOs including 10 human rights organisations from around the world, including Liberty, plus the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Big Brother Watch, and others.

We are confident that the Court will find the UK’s mass interception regime incompatible with ECHR rights – the human rights framework exists to protect populations from exactly this type of state abuse.

You can read Liberty’s blog about the case here.

You can read our press release here.

You can watch a video of the full hearing here.


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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Why Google DeepMind secretly gaining 1.6 million UK patient records is a human rights issue

Published on Liberty’s blog, 7 July 2017

By Silkie Carlo

There’s been a privacy scandal unravelling behind the scenes in the NHS for the last 18 months. You might be affected – and you wouldn’t even know.

If you or a loved one visited the Royal Free London Hospital between 2010 and 2015 – or Barnet or Chase Farm hospitals between July 2014 and 2015* – Google DeepMind may well have a copy of your medical records.

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Giving evidence on the Edward Snowden revelations at the German Bundestag

On 1 December 2016, I gave oral evidence to Germany’s Bundestag Committee of Inquiry on the subject of international mass surveillance, as revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

This is the only major over-arching inquiry into Snowden’s revelations of NSA/international mass surveillance. The Committee requested evidence on what the UK’s Agencies have been up to and what the recent legislative process (the Investigatory Powers Act) had been like.

It was a good opportunity to reaffirm that the UK’s new surveillance legislation is not compliant with human rights law and only entrenches and extends, rather than remedies, mass surveillance. It sets a dangerous precedent.

The video of my oral evidence is here, and a transcript is posted below:



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Another terrorist attack, another assault on our freedoms

Published on Liberty’s blog, 31 March 2017

By Silkie Carlo.

Last week’s terrorist attack was horrifying. From our office in Westminster, the sudden sound of sirens, racing police cars and then helicopters was chilling. As news came in of the lives lost, London was stunned to a sort of silence.

But the aftermath is characterised by the solidarity and British resilience we rely on for national healing.

The Prime Minister’s defiant statement reminded us that Parliament was targeted because of the values it represents: “democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law”. She reassured us in no uncertain terms: “any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure”.

But it wasn’t long before those values were put at risk.

The Home Secretary’s assault on WhatsApp in the wake of this appalling terrorist attack is draconian and misguided in equal measure

Last weekend, Home Secretary Amber Rudd proffered yet another enlargement of the surveillance state, branding secure messengers like WhatsApp “completely unacceptable”. She called any messenger that gives users privacy a “hiding place for terrorists” – apparently forgetting that she uses one herself.

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We warned you: smart TVs are watching you

WikiLeaks recently published CIA documents detailing the agency’s array of hacking tools – including the ability, developed in partnership with MI5, to hack smart TVs in order to subvert them into covert listening devices.

The leaks also revealed ongoing projects such as the development of hacking technologies for car software, raising questions as to the risks of fatal outcomes.

Few of the security and intelligence agencies’ practices are more disturbingly Orwellian than the subversion of TVs to covertly spy on households.


In this short discussion on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 programme, I explain why hacking TVs is a bad idea, why you need to be concerned about it, and what Liberty is doing to fight the UK’s own capabilities to hack citizens en masse. Also in the discussion are computer security expert Robert Shifreen, and the BBC’s Security Correspondent Gordon Corera.

The full programme is available here (expires 7 April 2017): BBC Radio 2