Litigating Algorithms, Beyond Education

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This past June, I presented at a conference at New York University (NYU) called Litigating Algorithms. Most attendees were lawyers, law students, and the like, all of whom were there to discuss the multiple ways that they have collectively and independently been challenging governmental uses of algorithm-based, decision-making systems (i.e., like VAMs) across disciplines. I was there to present about how VAMs have been used by states and school districts in education, as well as present the key issues with VAMs as litigated via the lawsuits in which I have been engaged (e.g., Houston, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee, and Texas). The conference was sponsored by the AI Now Institute, also at NYU, which has as its mission to examine the social implications of artificial intelligence (AI), and in collaboration with the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, affiliated with the NYU School of Law.

Anyhow, they just released their report from this conference and I thought it important to share out with all of you, also in that it details the extent to which similar AI systems are being used across disciplines beyond education, and it details how such uses (misuses and abuses) are being litigated in court.

See the press release below, and see the full report here.


Litigating Algorithms 2019 U.S. Report – New Challenges to Government Use of Algorithmic Decision Systems

Today the AI Now Institute and NYU Law’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law published new research on the ways litigation is being used as a tool to hold government accountable for using algorithmic tools that produce harmful results.

Algorithmic decision systems (ADS) are often sold as offering a number of benefits, from mitigating human bias and error, to cutting costs and increasing efficiency, accuracy, and reliability. Yet proof of these advantages is rarely offered, even as evidence of harm increases. Within health care, criminal justice, education, employment, and other areas, the implementation of these technologies has resulted in numerous problems with profound effects on millions of peoples’ lives.

More than 19,000 Michigan residents were incorrectly disqualified from food-assistance benefits by an errant ADS. A similar system automatically and arbitrarily cut Oregonians’ disability benefits. And an ADS falsely labeled 40,000 workers in Michigan as having committed unemployment fraud. These are a handful of examples that make clear the profound human consequences of the use of ADS, and the urgent need for accountability and validation mechanisms. 

In recent years, litigation has become a valuable tool for understanding the concrete and real impacts of flawed ADS and holding government accountable when it harms us. 

The Report picks up where our 2018 report left off, revisiting the first wave of U.S. lawsuits brought against government use of ADS, and examining what progress, if any, has been made.  We also explore a new wave of legal challenges that raise significant questions, including:

  1. What access, if any, criminal defense attorneys should have to law enforcement ADS in order to challenge allegations leveled by the prosecution; 
  2. The profound human consequences of erroneous or vindictive uses of governmental ADS; and 
  3. The evolution of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, America’s most powerful biometric privacy law, and what its potential impact on ADS accountability might be. 

This report offers concrete insights from actual cases involving plaintiffs and lawyers seeking justice in the face of harmful ADS. These cases illuminate many ways that ADS are perpetuating concrete harms, and the ways ADS companies are pushing against accountability and transparency.

The report also outlines several recommendations for advocates and other stakeholders interested in using litigation as a tool to hold government accountable for its use of ADS.

Citation: Richardson, R., Schultz, J. M., & Southerland, V. M. (2019). Litigating algorithms 2019 US report: New challenges to government use of algorithmic decision systems. New York, NY: AI Now Institute. Retrieved from

2 thoughts on “Litigating Algorithms, Beyond Education

  1. Thanks for the links to this report. Your contribution is apparent. Allison Mc Dowell’s website Wrench in the Gears has some remarkable insights on AI in education.

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