Our Work

We drive policy outcomes and spark debate through reports, scholarly articles, regulatory comments, direct advocacy efforts together with coalition allies, articles and op-eds, and participation in events including public panels, conferences, and workshops. Here's a selection of our recent work.

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Article by Miranda Bogen | 01 March 2018
What happens to body cam footage after fatal police shootings?

We looked at police shootings from 2017 to see whether video was released to the public, after how long, and under what circumstances — and found that too often, these videos stay hidden.

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Op-Ed by Malkia Cyril and Harlan Yu | 20 December 2017
The Benefits of Police Body Cams are a Myth

Harlan and Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice take a hard look at the impact of police body-worn cameras. “The sad reality is that these cameras mirror the power and the interests of the police, not those of the communities they are sworn to serve,” they write.

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Op-Ed by Miranda Bogen and Harlan Yu | 12 October 2017
Body cameras are only as effective as the policies that govern them

After St. Louis chose to accept a year of free body-worn cameras from Axon, we argue that the city’s police department needed to significantly strengthen civil rights protections in its BWC policies — particularly around when officers can review footage.

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article by Miranda Bogen | 14 September 2017
When drawing a line is hard: Connecting the dots between math, technology, and law in the challenges of gerrymandering

Gerrymandering isn’t just a math problem — it’s a policy fight, legal quagmire, mapping challenge, and statistical puzzle, all wrapped into one. This article explores the math and computer science concepts behind new efforts to ensure fair redistricting processes, and a Supreme Court case that could change how we measure bias in voting districts.

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article by Brianna Posadas | 22 June 2017
How strategic is Chicago's Strategic Subjects List?

Newly released data shows that almost 400,000 people are on Chicago’s “heat list.” Of that group, almost 290,000 have scores that the CPD says will lead to more scrutiny. Our analysis also shows that the most important factor in a person’s score was their age.

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article by David Robinson | 16 May 2017
Why Upturn Is Joining the Partnership on AI

Ever since we launched, we’ve worked to make sure that technology serves the dignity and well-being of everyone it touches. That’s why Upturn is excited to be joining the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society, alongside leading companies and social sector organizations.

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op-ed by Miranda Bogen and Harlan Yu | 13 April 2017
The NYPD's Body-Cam Guidelines Need Fixing

In the New York Daily News, Miranda and Harlan criticize the NYPD for ignoring public opinion while developing their body-worn camera policy. The NYPD’s proposed policies “risk turning these cameras from tools of accountability into something else entirely.”

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op-ed by Harlan Yu | 06 April 2017
America Pays for Free Body Cameras With Its Civil Rights

Over at Motherboard, Harlan explains why Axon’s offer of free body-worn cameras for every cop in America is dangerous. It creates a perverse incentive for departments to rush to adopt camera systems without thinking through the hard policy challenges.

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article by Logan Koepke | 30 March 2017
Pretrial algorithms deserve a fresh look, study suggests

Could a pretrial algorithm simultaneously reduce the number of individuals incarcerated pre-trial, failures-to-appear, and the proportion of minorities detained pre-trial? A new study suggests that with the right controls and policies, jurisdictions might be able to do so.

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Article by Logan Koepke | 21 November 2016
Predictive Policing Isn’t About the Future

In a piece published in Slate, Logan argues that popular analysis of predictive policing systems too often focuses on their predictions about the future, and less about the historical data upon which they rely.

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article by Aaron Rieke | 03 November 2016
Facebook, race, and ads: The story so far and what should happen next

Facebook can and should do more to protect its users from discrimination — especially in civil rights areas like housing, credit, and employment.

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blog post by David Robinson | 08 October 2016
Data ethics is a challenge that major foundations can’t afford to ignore

What’s at stake for civil society groups is not only their operational efficiency, but ultimately their effectiveness. In order to succeed in reshaping society, civil society groups must be able to responsibly use the most powerful tools at their disposal—and must also understand how public and private institutions use those powerful tools.

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Article by Miranda Bogen | 22 September 2016
Artificial intelligence will force us to confront our values

“Algorithmic accountability” is critical, but it presumes we know what values we’re trying to protect. This article argues that we need to critically think about and publicly debate the social values we’re imbuing into machines, and consider what to do when people fundamentally disagree about what those values ought to be.

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article by David Robinson | 31 August 2016
“Predictive policing” is happening now — and police could learn a lesson from Minority Report.

Law enforcement’s blind faith in a tool that doesn’t always work — a tool that can easily finger the wrong person, with terrible results — provides the central tension for that blockbuster film, and a vital lesson for our present.

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Article by Miranda Bogen | 26 August 2016
How Google Has Managed the Tricky Balancing Act of Geopolitics

Over in Newsweek, Miranda looks at the history of Google’s policy decisions about border designations in Google maps.

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article by Aaron Rieke | 11 August 2016
Don’t let the hype over “social media scores” distract you

How much of the public concern and reporting about “social media scores” has come untethered from reality.

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article by David Robinson | 31 July 2016
Airbnb’s racism problem is much bigger than a few racist hosts.

A visit to Oakland sparks David to reflect on Airbnb’s wider impact.

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Article by Logan Koepke | 03 June 2016
FBI seeks to shield its massive biometric database from public scrutiny

The FBI is proposing to exempt its entire NGI database from the basic regulations and requirements of the Privacy Act of 1974 — the very law designed to govern how the FBI handles this type of sensitive information. In this piece, Logan explains why that move is troubling for civil rights.

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op-ed by David Robinson | 26 May 2016
In 3 years, Chicago police have tripled their use of a secret, computerized “heat list.”

The list aims to predict who will be involved in future shootings. Its growing role in Chicago policing is a taste of what’s ahead.

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article by Aaron Rieke | 13 May 2016
Google was right to get tough on payday loan ads

After Google’s announcement that it will ban ads for payday loans, Aaron explains why this was a good call.

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Article by Logan Koepke | 24 March 2016
Should secret code convict?

A popular new DNA analysis tool, TrueAllele, claims to help law enforcement solve crimes by analyzing DNA mixtures or degraded samples. But its creator argues that the program’s source code is a trade secret. In this piece, Logan argues that sometimes, defendants should be able to see the source code of software that helps to convict them.

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article by Aaron Rieke | 10 March 2016
What can your ISP see? Facts to keep in mind as you consider the FCC’s new privacy proposal

“What can your ISP see when you go online anyway?” Aaron offers some concise answers.