Center for Civil Rights and Technology
Ensuring that new technologies further, not hinder, civil rights protections
Civil rights are fundamental to a fair and just society. We are working in coalition to build a regulatory regime that includes civil rights guardrails, transparency and accountability to ensure technology is innovative rather than harmful.
The Center for Civil Rights and Technology is a first-of-its-kind research and advocacy hub, bringing together civil society, policymakers, and the tech sector to advance understanding of opportunities and challenges from the proliferation of AI and emerging technologies. Together, these diverse groups are working relentlessly to ensure that when AI policy is formulated, they center civil rights as a core issue.
Everyone deserves fairness and equity. As artificial intelligence (AI) use grows and provides opportunities for innovation and productivity, it is essential that the federal government protects everyone from the potential harms of AI and ensures we have equitable access for all communities to its benefits. Civil rights protections do not fall away when you interact with an automated system. AI systems that are biased do not provide full information or protections for marginalized communities. Therefore, the current decisions made using those systems cannot be trusted. We are advocating across the federal government and White House administration to ensure that AI legislation and regulatory measures center on civil rights, and that AI systems are equitable and do not discriminate.
Voice and broadband services are essential for full participation in today’s economy. Unfortunately, our nation’s most marginalized communities are often on the wrong side of the digital divide. The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program closes the affordability gap that keeps communities disconnected from 21st century communications services. Millions of Americans rely on the Lifeline program for access to affordable voice and broadband services — and that is why we work to ensure the program remains strong.
The transition from copper circuit-switched wireline networks to fiber, co-axial cable, and wireless all-Internet Protocol (IP) networks is an important evolution of our communications infrastructure that impacts all people in America. Upgrading technologies can offer great benefits for economic growth and competitiveness, flexibility, job creation, consumer service, and cost. But challenges may arise as providers upgrade the nation’s infrastructure.
Civil rights protections rely in great measure on an accurate, independent, and diverse media. The Federal Communications Commission must find creative and practical ways to address inequities in media ownership and enhance representation and inclusion within these industries. We advocate for the FCC to consider the impact of media concentration on minority and women’s ownership, improve its data collection on the demographics of media ownership, and meet the informational and communications needs of all people.
Prison Phone Rates
For many people who are incarcerated, phone calls are the most reliable and practical method of staying in contact with their families and communities. But too often prison systems and phone companies take advantage of this dependence and charge outrageously high rates for these phone calls. Current policy is not just inhumane — it reduces the chances that people will successfully return home from prison. We support efforts to eliminate predatory prison phone rates in America.
Technological progress should bring greater safety, economic opportunity, and convenience to everyone. While data is essential for documenting persistent inequality and discrimination, no one – no matter their color, ethnicity, or gender – should be unfairly targeted by businesses or the government for dragnet surveillance, discriminatory decisions, or any other unwarranted intrusions.
In 2014, we partnered with 13 other civil and human rights and technology organizations to release Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data, urging companies and the government to develop and use these new technologies in ways that will promote equal opportunity and equal justice.
To ensure that big data serves the best interests of each of us, civil rights must be a key part of any public policy framework.
Body Worn Cameras
As body worn cameras come into greater use by law enforcement across the country, police departments should follow certain principles to ensure that the cameras are a tool of public accountability and transparency – not instruments of injustice. In May 2015, a broad coalition of civil rights, privacy, and media rights organizations released shared civil rights principles for the use of body worn cameras by law enforcement.
In collaboration with Upturn, we’ve also released a scorecard that evaluates the civil rights safeguards of police body-worn camera programs in 75 U.S. cities – and a report, The Illusion of Accuracy: How Body-Worn Camera Footage Can Distort Evidence, which explains why police departments must carefully limit law enforcement officers’ review of body-worn camera footage.
Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments
In July 2018, a broad coalition of more than 100 civil rights, digital justice, and community-based organizations released a shared statement of civil rights concerns highlighting concerns with the adoption of algorithmic-based decisionmaking tools (also known as risk assessment instruments) as a substitution for ending money bail.
These tools use data to forecast an individual’s likelihood of appearance at future court dates and/or risk of re-arrest. While many jurisdictions claim that these tools are a necessary part of an effort to end money bail and create a fairer pretrial system, the signers, representing millions of people impacted by mass incarceration, urge jurisdictions to reconsider their use of these tools, and to center transparency and accountability to the communities judged by the tools.
Holding Facebook Accountable
In October 2017, we joined with civil rights organizations to express our deep concern regarding ads, pages, and hateful content on Facebook’s platform used to divide our country, and in particular, to promote anti-Muslim, anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBTQ animus. In May 2018, Facebook committed to a long-overdue civil rights audit.
Along with Color of Change, we wrote to Facebook again in November 2018 urging them to take immediate steps to build public faith in the platform – faith that is further eroded as we learn more about how the company has undermined our democracy and civil society. We also called for an update on the status of their audit, and a commitment to addressing the problems and implementing recommendations.