Asian Americans Advancing Justice
KeywordsVoter Turnout License Plate Automate Decision National Security Agency Surveillance Technology
Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1991. It was established to empower Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other underserved groups, ensuring a fair and equitable society for all. The organization’s mission is to promote justice, unify local and national constituents, and empower communities. To this end, AAAJ dedicates itself to develop public policy, educate the public, litigate, and facilitate in the development of grassroots organizations. Some of their recent accomplishments have included increasing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ voter turnout and access to polls, enhancing immigrants’ access to education and employment opportunities, and advocating for greater protections of rights as they relate to the use of “big data.”
The Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data
In 2014, AAAJ joined a diverse coalition comprising of civil, human, and media rights groups, such as the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Center for Media Justice, to propose, sign, and release the “Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data.” The coalition acknowledged that progress and advances in technology would foster improvements in the quality of life of citizens and help mitigate discrimination and inequality. However, because various types of “big data” tools and technologies – namely, digital surveillance, predictive analytics, and automated decision-making – could potentially ease the level in which businesses and governments are able to encroach upon the private lives of citizens, the coalition found it critical that such tools and technologies are developed and employed with the intention of respecting equal opportunity and equal justice.
Stop high-tech profiling. New and emerging surveillance technologies and techniques have made it possible to piece together comprehensive details on any citizen or group, resulting in an increased risk of profiling and discrimination. For instance, it was alleged that police in New York had used license plate readers to document vehicles that were visiting certain mosques; this allowed the police to track where the vehicles were traveling. The accessibility and convenience of this technology meant that this type of surveillance could happen without policy constraints. The principle of stopping high-tech profiling was thus intended to limit such acts through setting clear limits and establishing auditing procedures for surveillance technologies and techniques.
Ensure fairness in automated decisions. Today, computers are responsible for making critical decisions that have the potential to affect the lives of citizens’ in the areas of health, employment, education, insurance, and lending. For example, major auto insurers are able to use monitoring devices to track drivers’ habits, and as a result, insurers could potentially deny the best coverage rates to those who often drive when and where accidents are more likely to occur. The principle of ensuring fairness in automated decisions advocates that computer systems should be operating fairly in situations and circumstances such as the one described. The coalition had recommended, for instance, that independent reviews be employed to assure that systems are working fairly.
Preserve constitutional protections. This principle advocates that government databases must be prohibited from undermining core legal protections, including those concerning citizens’ privacy and their freedom of association. Indeed, it has been argued that data from warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency have been used by federal agencies, including the DEA and the IRS, even though such data were gathered outside the policies that rule those agencies. Individuals with access to government databases could also potentially use them for improper purposes. The principle of preserving constitutional protections is thus intended to limit such instances from occurring.
Enhance citizens’ control of their personal information. According to this principle, citizens should have direct control over how corporations gather data from them, and how corporations use and share such data. Indeed, personal and private information known and accessible to a corporation can be shared with companies and the government. For example, unscrupulous companies can find vulnerable customers through accessing and using highly targeted marketing lists, such as one that might contain the names and contact information of citizens who have cancer. In this case, the principle of enhancing citizens’ control of personal information ensures that the government and companies should not be able to disclose private information without a legal process to do so.
Protect citizens from inaccurate data. This principle advocates that when it comes to making important decisions about citizens – particularly, the disadvantaged (the poor, persons with disabilities, the LGBT community, seniors, and those who lack access to the Internet) – corporations and the government should work to ensure that their databases contain accurate of personal information about citizens. To ensure the accuracy of data, this could require disclosing the underlying data and granting citizens the right to correct information that is inaccurate. For instance, government employment verification systems have had higher error rates for legal immigrants and individuals with multiple surnames (including many Hispanics) than for other legal workers; this has created a barrier to employment. In addition, some individuals have lost job opportunities because of inaccuracies in their criminal history information, or because their information had been expunged.
The five principles above continue to help inspire subsequent movements highlighting the growing need to strengthen and protect civil rights in the face of technological change. Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the other members of the coalition also continue to advocate for these rights and protections.
- Civil rights and big data: Background material. http://www.civilrights.org/press/2014/civil-rights-and-big-data.html. Accessed 20 June 2016.