Big data can be a valuable tool in fighting inequality and societal problems, but there is also a “growing need to protect and strengthen key civil rights protections in the face of technological change,” as a new report, Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future, explains.
The report, released by technology policy consulting firm Robinson + Yu on September 12, examines the intersection of civil rights and big data. According to David Robinson, the report comes in response to “advocates, policymakers and everyday citizens asking the right questions.” In an attempt to answer them, the analysis looks at both the private and public sectors, focusing specifically on financial inclusion, jobs, criminal justice, and government data collection and use.
Earlier this year, a coalition of civil, human, and media rights organizations, including The Leadership Conference (and advised by Robinson + Yu), created and endorsed the Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data. These principles, along with a White House report on big data released in May, have helped to bring the issue to the public’s attention and inspire a continuing dialogue.
Despite demonstrated risks, the report acknowledges that big data isn’t inherently harmful. What matters most is not the technology itself, but the framework of laws and protections in which it is being implemented. Ultimately, future policy and regulation will determine whether the nation can shape technology to protect civil rights and solve societal problems, or whether it is allowed to meld into an inequitable system that supercharges discrimination.