ACLU of Washington Releases Toolkit to Help People Identify Government Surveillance and Decision-Making Technologies

News Release: 
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Today, the ACLU of Washington and the Critical Platform Studies Group released an Algorithmic Equity Toolkit (AEKit) designed to help individuals better identify government surveillance and automated decision-making technologies. These systems automate, aid, or replace human decision-making in a number of important contexts, including accepting or rejecting employment, housing and public benefits applications, setting or rejecting bail, and analyzing insurance claims. The Toolkit also helps individuals to make sense of how these technologies work so that they can pose informed questions about impacts, effectiveness, and oversight. 

The team behind the AEKit began working in 2019 to build the capacity of community groups to identify, understand, and evaluate government technologies. The AEKit is the result of a year of collaborative work with the ACLU of Washington, the Critical Platform Studies Group, the University of Washington (UW) eScience Institute’s Data Science for Social Good Program, and the Tech Fairness Coalition, a collective of community groups in Washington. 

The toolkit consists of four components:
  • Flowchart: An identification tool to help determine whether a technology is an automated decision system, surveillance tool, both, or neither.
  • System Map: A resource defining key terms used in the AEKit and mapping the relationships between the various parts of automated decision systems.
  • Fill-in-the-Blank: A set of open-ended prompts that help to explore potential impacts of these technologies.
  • Questionnaire: Questions about automated decision systems to ask government employees, elected officials, vendors.

“Invisible, powerful, and often biased tools are being adopted without public oversight or accountability to make important, and even life-or-death decisions, including whether you get a job or housing, what you pay for health care, how your community is policed, how much bail is set, and how long your sentence is,” said Jennifer Lee, ACLU-WA’s Technology & Liberty Manager. “Being able to identify automated decision systems and their impacts is an important first step to intervening in their use.”

Mike Katell (UW iSchool), Peaks Krafft (Oxford Internet Institute), and Meg Young (UW iSchool) of the Critical Studies Platform Group said, “We co-designed this toolkit with community advocates to broaden their efforts at exposing threats raised by new digital technologies. We encourage anyone concerned with fairness to use this new resource to pose critical questions about technology oversight to your local representatives, lawmakers, and government officials.”

The AEKit is available here.
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