A year-long report undertaken by the Law Society of England & Wales has said there is a need for urgent oversight over the use of complex algorithms in the justice system.
The Law Society Technology and Law Policy Commission published its report on algorithms in criminal justice alongside an interactive map that allows the public to see for the first time the beginnings of an overview of where algorithms are being used to assist decision-making across the justice system across England and Wales.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws (left) said, “Police, prisons and border forces are innovating in silos to help them manage and use the vast quantities of data they hold about people, places and events.”
“Complex algorithms are crunching data to help officials make judgement calls about all sorts of things – from where to send a bobby on the beat to who is at risk of being a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence; who to pick out of a crowd, let out on parole or which visa application to scrutinize”
“While there are obvious efficiency wins, there is a worrying lack of oversight or framework to mitigate some hefty risks – of unlawful deployment, of discrimination or bias that may be unwittingly built in by an operator.”
“These dangers are exacerbated by the absence of transparency, centralised coordination or systematic knowledge-sharing between public bodies. Although some forces are open about their use of algorithms, this is by no means uniform,” she said.
What to Do?
The report recommends on oversight a legal framework for the use of complex algorithms in the justice system.
The lawful basis for the use of any algorithmic systems must be clear and explicitly declared, including having a national register of algorithmic systems used by public bodies.
Public bodies must be able to explain what human rights are affected by any complex algorithm they use and there should also be human management of complex algorithmic systems.
Public bodies must be able to explain how specific algorithms reach specific decisions, the Society says.
“Within the right framework algorithmic systems – whether facial recognition technology, predictive policing or individual risk assessment tools – can deliver a range of benefits in the justice system, from efficiency and efficacy to accountability and consistency.
“We need to build a consensus rooted in the rule of law, which preserves human rights and equality, to deliver a trusted and reliable justice system now and for the future.”