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Here’s One Group of People Who May Not Be a Fan of Big Data Analytics: eDiscovery Trends

Most of us love the idea of big data analytics and how it can ultimately benefit us, not just in the litigation process, but in business and life overall.  But, there may be one group of people who may not be as big a fan of big data analytics as the rest of us: criminals who are being sentenced at least partly on the basis of predictive data analysis regarding the likelihood that they will be a repeat offender.

This article in the ABA Journal (Legality of using predictive data to determine sentences challenged in Wisconsin Supreme Court case, written by Sony Kassam), discusses the case of 34-year-old Eric Loomis, who was arrested in Wisconsin in February 2013 for driving a car that had been used in a shooting.  He ultimately pled guilty to eluding an officer and no contest to operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent. Loomis, a registered sex offender, was then sentenced to six years in prison because a score on a test noted he was a “high risk” to the community.

During his appeal in April, Loomis challenged the use of the test’s score, saying it violated his right to due process of law because he was unable to review the algorithm and raise questions about it.

As described in The New York Times, the algorithm used is known as COMPAS (Correctional Offender  Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions).  Compas is an algorithm developed by a private company, Northpointe Inc., that calculates the likelihood of someone committing another crime and suggests what kind of supervision a defendant should receive in prison. The algorithm results come from a survey of the defendant and information about his or her past conduct.  Company officials at Northpointe say the algorithm’s results are backed by research, but they are “proprietary”. While Northpointe does acknowledge that men, women and juveniles all receive different assessments, the factors considered and the weight given to each are kept secret.

The secrecy and the use of different scales for men and women are at the heart of Loomis’ appeal, which an appellate court has referred to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which could rule on the appeal in the coming days or weeks.

Other states also use algorithms, including Utah and Virginia, the latter of which has used algorithms for more than a decade.  According to The New York Times, at least one previous prison sentence involving Compas was appealed in Wisconsin and upheld.  And, algorithms have also been used to predict potential crime hot spots: Police in Chicago have used data to identify people who are likely to shoot or get shot and authorities in Kansas City, Mo. have used data to identify possible criminals.  We’re one step closer to pre-crime, folks.

So, what do you think?  Should algorithms that have a significant effect on people’s lives be secret?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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