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Category Archives: Courts

Algorithmic Transparency for the Smart City

Brauneis, Robert and Goodman, Ellen P., Algorithmic Transparency for the Smart City (August 2, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3012499

“Emerging across many disciplines are questions about algorithmic ethics – about the values embedded in artificial intelligence and big data analytics that increasingly replace human decisionmaking. Many are concerned that an algorithmic society is too opaque to be accountable for its behavior. An individual can be denied parole or denied credit, fired or not hired for reasons she will never know and cannot be articulated. In the public sector, the opacity of algorithmic decisionmaking is particularly problematic both because governmental decisions may be especially weighty, and because democratically-elected governments bear special duties of accountability. Investigative journalists have recently exposed the dangerous impenetrability of algorithmic processes used in the criminal justice field – dangerous because the predictions they make can be both erroneous and unfair, with none the wiser.  We set out to test the limits of transparency around governmental deployment of big data analytics, focusing our investigation on local and state government use of predictive algorithms. It is here, in local government, that algorithmically-determined decisions can be most directly impactful. And it is here that stretched agencies are most likely to hand over the analytics to private vendors, which may make design and policy choices out of the sight of the client agencies, the public, or both. To see just how impenetrable the resulting “black box” algorithms are, we filed 42 open records requests in 23 states seeking essential information about six predictive algorithm programs. We selected the most widely-used and well-reviewed programs, including those developed by for-profit companies, nonprofits, and academic/private sector partnerships. The goal was to see if, using the open records process, we could discover what policy judgments these algorithms embody, and could evaluate their utility and fairness.  To do this work, we identified what meaningful “algorithmic transparency” entails. We found that in almost every case, it wasn’t provided. Over-broad assertions of trade secrecy were a problem. But contrary to conventional wisdom, they were not the biggest obstacle. It will not usually be necessary to release the code used to execute predictive models in order to dramatically increase transparency. We conclude that publicly-deployed algorithms will be sufficiently transparent only if (1) governments generate appropriate records about their objectives for algorithmic processes and subsequent implementation and validation; (2) government contractors reveal to the public agency sufficient information about how they developed the algorithm; and (3) public agencies and courts treat trade secrecy claims as the limited exception to public disclosure that the law requires. Although it would require a multi-stakeholder process to develop best practices for record generation and disclosure, we present what we believe are eight principal types of information that such records should ideally contain.”

Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of Practical Obscurity

Ardia, David S., Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of Practical Obscurity (August 4, 2017). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2017, No. 5, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3013704 “Court records present a conundrum for privacy advocates. Public access to the courts has long been a fundamental tenant of American democracy, helping… Continue Reading

Free Law Project – We Have Every Free PACER Opinion on CourtListener.com

“At Free Law Project, we have gathered millions of court documents over the years, but it’s with distinct pride that we announce that we have now completed our biggest crawl ever. After nearly a year of work, and with support from the U.S. Department of Labor and Georgia State University, we have collected every free… Continue Reading

Where You Live Impacts Ability To Obtain Representation in Immigration Court

“Newly obtained case-by-case court records show that depending upon the community in which the immigrant resides, the odds of obtaining representation in Immigration Court deportation proceedings vary widely. If you happen to live in Honolulu, Hawaii, the odds are over 90 percent that you will be able to find an attorney to represent you. The… Continue Reading

Report – Disruptive innovation in the courts

“The Joint Technology Committee (JTC) has released a new Resource Bulletin titled “Courts Disrupted.” This paper takes a captivating look at today’s fast-changing world of innovation and public expectations. Recognizing courts will not remain untouched by disruptive innovation, the paper encourages embracing rather than resisting the opportunities to improve business processes and make justice more… Continue Reading

Free Law Project details vulnerability and possible exploits of PACER

Investigate report by the Free Law Project: “PACER/ECF is a system of 204 websites that is run by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO) for the management of federal court documents. The main function of PACER/ECF is for lawyers and the public to upload and download court documents such as briefs, memos, orders, and… Continue Reading

The Spine of American Law: Digital Text Analysis and U.S. Legal Practice

Funk, Kellen R. and Mullen, Lincoln A., The Spine of American Law: Digital Text Analysis and U.S. Legal Practice (July 12, 2017). American Historical Review (February 2018). Available at SSRN: https:/srn.com/abstract=3001377 “In the second half of the nineteenth century, the majority of U.S. states adopted a novel code of legal practice for their civil courts.… Continue Reading

Residents in Three Out of Four Counties in U.S. Now Before Immigration Court

“The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University has just released a brand new web mapping application that allows the public to examine for the very first time the number of individuals residing in each state, county, and local community within a county, who have pending cases before the Immigration Court. The level of… Continue Reading

Supreme Court’s new electronic filing system will begin operation on November 13, 2017

“The Supreme Court’s new electronic filing system will begin operation on November 13, 2017. A quick link on the Court’s website homepage will provide access to the new system, developed in-house to provide prompt and easy access to case documents. Once the system is in place, virtually all new filings will be accessible without cost… Continue Reading

Disrupting Mass Incarceration at the Local Level: A Guide to Mapping Reform

Oregon Justice Resource Center: “Public awareness and concern about over-criminalization and over-incarceration has grown significantly in recent years but much of that attention is focused in the wrong places. What happens at the national level tends to be in the spotlight much of the time, despite the fact that most people entering our prisons and… Continue Reading

Bail: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law

CRS report via FAS – Bail: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law, Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist in American Public Law, July 31, 2017. “This is an overview of the federal law of bail. Bail is the release of an individual following his arrest upon his promise—secured or unsecured; conditioned or unconditioned—to appear at subsequent judicial… Continue Reading

Supreme Court launches redesigned website

SCOTUSblog: “Late Friday evening [July 28, 2017] the Supreme Court released a new version of its website (www.supremecourt.gov). The court’s Public Information Office boasts that the site update includes “a more consistent menu structure, a more interactive calendar, faster access through Quick Links, improved page load times, and reduced page scrolling.” For example, instead of… Continue Reading