Technology and Ethics

Chicago Public Schools Monitored Social Media for Signs of Violence, Gang Membership

February 11, 2019

New article in ProPublica Illinois mentions the work of Desmond Patton, Carr Center Technology and Human Rights Fellow.

"School officials say the monitoring was about keeping students safe, not punishing them. But critics say it expanded the role of police in schools and increased surveillance of children."​​​​​​​


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Critical Skill for Nonprofits in the Digital Age: Technical Intuition

May 7, 2019

New article featuring Carr Center Technology and Human Rights Fellow Alix Dunn.

In a world where the pace of organizational learning is often slower than the pace of technological change, activists and nonprofit leaders must develop their “technical intuition.” Not everyone needs to become a tech expert, explains Alix Dunn, of the consulting firm Computer Says Maybe, but this ongoing process of imagining, inquiring about, deciding on, and demanding technological change is critical.

In this recording from our 2019 ...

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Living with a Criminal Record

January 8, 2019

MPR News with Technology and Human Rights fellow Laurin Leonard.

What is it like to live with a criminal record? Kerri Miller talked to two experts to gain a better understanding of how a criminal record impact different areas of life.

Guests:Laurin Leonard—Executive director of "Mission: Launch"

Alexandra Natapoff—Former public defender, law professor at UC Irvine, and author of "Punishment Without Crime"

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Wake Up, Hapless Technology Users
Kathryn Sikkink. 3/21/2018. “Wake Up, Hapless Technology Users.” The Boston Globe. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Read this Op-Ed in the Boston Globe by Professor Kathryn Sikkink.

"Wake up, users of technology! You are not just a hapless victim, but you too have obligations — along with, of course, the multiple obligations of governments and corporations. We all should know by now that our smartphones are little spy machines that we carry around in our pockets and our Facebook pages are open invitations for violations of privacy. They are usually benevolent spy machines, and certainly, indispensable ones, but spy machines nonetheless."

Read the full Op-Ed here.

Climate Change Induced Displacement: Leveraging Transnational Advocacy Networks to Address Operational Gaps
Steven Livingston and Joseph Guay. 2/21/2017. “Climate Change Induced Displacement: Leveraging Transnational Advocacy Networks to Address Operational Gaps.” UNHCR .Abstract
An article on climate change and induced displacement, by Carr Center's Senior Fellow Steven Livingston and Joseph Guay. 

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, “Few aspects of the human endeavor…are isolated from possible impacts in a changing climate. The interconnectedness of the Earth system makes it impossible to draw a confined boundary around climate change impact, adaptations, and vulnerability.”1 This includes human population displacements, which amounted to a staggering 51.2 million refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced people (IDPs) in 2013.2

Unfortunately, as the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme events affecting populations are on the rise, the humanitarian aid community is stretched thin in the face of multiple complex emergencies and protracted challenges around the world

Read the full post.

Disinformation Campaigns Target Tech-Enabled Citizen Journalists
Steven Livingston. 3/2/2017. “Disinformation Campaigns Target Tech-Enabled Citizen Journalists.” Brookings.Abstract
New blog post by Carr Center Senior Fellow Steven Livingston published on Brookings. 

"Governments hoping to evade responsibility for war crimes and rights abuses are having a much tougher time of it these days. Denying entry to nettlesome investigators is still standard while many places are simply too dangerous to investigate. But even where investigators cannot go, digital technologies can sometimes overcome barriers to investigation. A recent Harvard Kennedy School report published by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy underscores how various digital technologies undermine attempts to hide abuses and war crimes. Commercial high-resolution remote sensing satellites, some capable of distinguishing objects on the ground as small as 30-cm across, allow human rights groups to document military forces deployments, mass graves, forced population displacements, and damage to physical infrastructure."

Read the full blog at Brookings.

Is Your Phone Tainted by the Misery of the 35,000 Children in Congo's Mines?
Siddharth Kara. 10/12/2018. “Is Your Phone Tainted by the Misery of the 35,000 Children in Congo's Mines?” The Guardian. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In his recent article in The Gaurdian, Senior Fellow Siddharth Kara discusses the human rights violations connected to the cobalt industry. 

My field research shows that children as young as six are among those risking their lives amid toxic dust to mine cobalt for the world’s big electronics firms  -Siddharth Kara, Senior Fellow, Carr Center

"Until recently, I knew cobalt only as a colour. Falling somewhere between the ocean and the sky, cobalt blue has been prized by artists from the Ming dynasty in China to the masters of French Impressionism. But there is another kind of cobalt, an industrial form that is not cherished for its complexion on a palette, but for its ubiquity across modern life.

This cobalt is found in every lithium-ion rechargeable battery on the planet – from smartphones to tablets to laptops to electric vehicles. It is also used to fashion superalloys to manufacture jet engines, gas turbines and magnetic steel. You cannot send an email, check social media, drive an electric car or fly home for the holidays without using this cobalt. As I learned on a recent research trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this cobalt is not awash in cerulean hues. Instead, it is smeared in misery and blood."

Elodie is 15. Her two-month-old son is wrapped tightly in a frayed cloth around her back. He inhales potentially lethal mineral dust every time he takes a breath. Toxicity assaults at every turn; earth and water are contaminated with industrial runoff, and the air is brown with noxious haze. Elodie is on her own here, orphaned by cobalt mines that took both her parents. She spends the entire day bent over, digging with a small shovel to gather enough cobalt-containing heterogenite stone to rinse at nearby Lake Malo to fill one sack. It will take her an entire day to do so, after which Chinese traders will pay her about $0.65 (50p). Hopeless though it may be, it is her and her child’s only means of survival.

Read the full article in The Guardian.

Trump wants to “detect mass shooters before they strike.” It won’t work.
Sigal Samuel. 8/7/2019. “Trump wants to “detect mass shooters before they strike.” It won’t work.” Vox.Abstract

New article on Vox highlights the work of Desmond Patton, Technology and Human Rights Fellow.

Patton, emphasized that current AI tools tend to identify the language of African American and Latinx people as gang-involved or otherwise threatening, but consistently miss the posts of white mass murderers.

"I think technology is a tool, not the tool," said Patton. "Often we use it as an escape so as to not address critical solutions that need to come through policy. We have to pair tech with gun reform. Any effort that suggests we need to do them separately, I don’t think that would be a successful effort at all.”

Read full article here. 

Luís Roberto Barroso. 9/9/2019. Technological Revolution, Democratic Recession and Climate Change: The Limits of Law in a Changing World.Abstract
Read Senior Fellow Luis Roberto Barroso's paper: 

Law is a universal institution that has pretensions of being ubiquitous and complete. However, in a complex, plural and volatile world, its limits and possibilities are shaken by the speed, depth and extent of ongoing transformations, its resulting ethical dilemmas, and the difficulties of forming consensus in the political universe. This article provides a reflection on how the Law has attempted to deal with some of the main afflictions of our time, facing demands that include the needs to (i) keep the technological revolution on an ethical and humanistic track, (ii) avoid that democracy be perverted by populist and authoritarian adventures and (iii) prevent solutions to climate change from coming only when it is too late. At a time when even the near future has become unpredictable, Law cannot provide a priori solutions to multiplying problems and anxieties. When this happens, we must set clear goals for the future of humanity, basing them on the essential and perennial values that have followed us since antiquity.

Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism
Mark Latonero. 7/11/2019. “Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism.” The New York Times. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Mark Latonero – Carr Center Technology and Human Rights Fellow, and research lead at Data & Society – discusses surveillance humanitarianism for The New York Times

A standoff between the United Nations World Food Program and Houthi rebels in control of the capital region is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Alarmed by reports that food is being diverted to support the rebels, the aid program is demanding that Houthi officials allow them to deploy biometric technologies like iris scans and digital fingerprints to monitor suspected fraud during food distribution.

The Houthis have reportedly blocked food delivery, painting the biometric effort as an intelligence operation, and have demanded access to the personal data on beneficiaries of the aid. The impasse led the aid organization to the decision last month to suspend food aid to parts of the starving population — once thought of as a last resort — unless the Houthis allow biometrics.

Read the full article.