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Criminal justice software code could send you to jail and there’s nothing you can do about it

Trade secrets are trumping personal liberty

Excerpt from The Register – August 13, 2018


DEF CON American police and the judiciary are increasingly relying on software to catch, prosecute and sentence criminal suspects, but the code is untested, unavailable to suspects’ defense teams, and in some cases provably biased.

In a presentation at the DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas, delegates were given the example of the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) system, which is used by trial judges to decide sentencing times and parole guidelines.

“The company behind COMPAS acknowledges gender is a factor in its decision-making process and that, as men are more likely to be recidivists, so they are less likely to be recommended for probation,” explained Jerome Greco, digital forensics staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society.

“Women [are] thus more likely to get probation, and there are higher sentences for men. We don’t know how the data is swaying it or how significant gender is. The company is hiding behind trade secrets legislation to stop the code being checked.”

These so-called advanced systems are often trained on biased data sets, he said. Facial recognition software is often trained on data sets filled with predominantly white men, he said, making it less effective at correctly matching up people of color, according to research by academics.

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