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Will technological innovation perpetuate and further embed ethnic disproportionality across the justice system?

The issue of the use of technology and personal information within policing has recently been brought to the fore by the Information Commissioner’s report into the Metropolitan Police’s gang’s matrix database. The report detailed a number of failings on the part of the Metropolitan Police. The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, summarises  the deficiencies she identified:

My investigation revealed serious breaches of data protection laws with the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix.

For me it comes back to fairness; how people – both alleged gang members and alleged victims - end up on the matrix, how their personal data is shared, and whether that is done appropriately. What my investigation revealed was serious breaches of data protection laws with the potential to cause damage and distress to those on the matrix.

As the Information Commissioner suggests, the problem goes beyond the technical details to one of fairness; essentially that justice cannot be delivered through unjust means. This undermines the process of justice and builds resentment and, as a society, we must be wary of scenarios whereby injustices are institutionalised.

Liberty’s recent report, Policing by Machine, gives a comprehensive analysis on the development of this technology and its adoption by UK police forces. We agree with their analysis and share their concerns around its implementation by UK police forces.

That’s why at Equal we made a submission to the Law Society’s Policy Commission on the use of algorithms, arguing that without there being any analysis or safeguards as to their use they may perpetuate and further embed racial disparities and inequality.

Our hope is that the Met and other forces can learn from the Information Commissioner’s report and engage with civil society and affected communities around these challenges. We also feel the EHRC must do more in its role as a regulator in this area.