Poverty Lawgorithms: A Poverty Lawyer’s Guide to Fighting Automated Decision-Making Harms on Low-Income Communities
Data & Society, 2020
University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming
63 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 15, 2020
We live in a “datafied” society in which our personal data is constantly harvested, analyzed, and sold by governments and businesses. Algorithms analyze this data, sort people into categories, and serve as gatekeepers to life’s necessities. Yet people remain largely in the dark about these big data systems, creating an informational asymmetry whose harmful consequences fall most harshly on low-income people. Data-centric technologies add scope, scale, and speed to negative inferences about poor people. Based on their digital profiles, they can find themselves excluded from mainstream opportunities, such as jobs, education, and housing; targeted for predatory services and products; and surveilled by systems in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. The technological systems impacting low-income communities raise profound issues of civil rights, human rights, and economic justice.
As a result, civil legal services (or poverty) lawyers increasingly represent clients whose legal challenges are intertwined with automated decision-making systems, digital profiling, predictive analytics, and various artificial intelligence tools. Competent legal representation requires an ability to issue-spot the ways in which data-centric technologies intersect with legal claims and defenses and to understand governing legal frameworks. At the same time, lawyers do not need the technical expertise of computer scientists to effectively interrogate these systems. Rather, understanding where and how data-centric technologies operate puts lawyers in a powerful position to advocate alongside their clients.
This report is designed to help poverty lawyers and their clients resist the adverse impacts of data-centric technologies and to engage as stakeholders in the adoption and implementation of algorithmic systems. The report is organized by major practice area and includes links to helpful resources for deeper dives into specific issues that may arise in legal services representation and policy advocacy. The practice areas covered are consumer, family law, housing, public benefits, schools and education, and workers’ rights, as well as a final section on how immigration surveillance intersects with these practice areas.
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