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Artificial Intelligence Is Already Sending People to Jail — and Getting It Wrong

Elias Marat

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As machine-learning algorithms, big data methods and artificial intelligence are increasingly used in the toolkit of U.S. law enforcement agencies, many are worrying that the existing biases of the criminal justice system are simply being automated – and deepened.

Police departments are increasingly relying on predictive algorithms to figure out where to deploy their forces by blanketing cities with a mesh of human-based and computerized surveillance technology including, but not limited to, data-mining, facial recognition, and predictive policing programs.

This comes despite the flaw in such tools. Facial recognition software have often held a bias toward darker-skinned individuals, including mistaking members of Congress for criminal suspects. In essence, racial profiling has become automated while allowing law enforcement agencies to claim that the computers are race-neutral tools.

In Los Angeles County, for example, all 47 police agencies are plugged into a biometrics system maintained by NEC Corporation of America, which claims to have the capacity to incorporate 15 million subjects into its facial recognition platform – giving a powerful boost to a wide-ranging suite of technology including closed-circuit cameras, StingRay phone trackers, and earthquake prediction software that identifies alleged crime “hot spots” based on historic data.

And now, courtrooms are increasingly relying on criminal risk assessment algorithms, according to a new report from MIT Technology Review.

Under the guise of trimming the number of prisoners while processing defendants efficiently, prisoners are being assigned recidivism scores that estimate to what extent it is likely that a perpetrator may or may not reoffend.

As author Karen Hao explains:

“A judge then factors that score into a myriad of decisions that can determine what type of rehabilitation services particular defendants should receive, whether they should be held in jail before trial, and how severe their sentences should be. A low score paves the way for a kinder fate. A high score does precisely the opposite.

The logic for using such algorithmic tools is that if you can accurately predict criminal behavior, you can allocate resources accordingly, whether for rehabilitation or for prison sentences. In theory, it also reduces any bias influencing the process, because judges are making decisions on the basis of data-driven recommendations and not their gut.

You may have already spotted the problem. Modern-day risk assessment tools are often driven by algorithms trained on historical crime data.”

The problem is that by relying on historical crime data, the communities that have been historically targeted by law enforcement – such as low-income and national, ethnic or religious minorities – are at risk of receiving higher recidivism scores. Hao continues:

“So if you feed it historical crime data, it will pick out the patterns associated with crime. But those patterns are statistical correlations—nowhere near the same as causations. If an algorithm found, for example, that low income was correlated with high recidivism, it would leave you none the wiser about whether low income actually caused crime. But this is precisely what risk assessment tools do: they turn correlative insights into causal scoring mechanisms.”

“As a result, the algorithm could amplify and perpetuate embedded biases and generate even more bias-tainted data to feed a vicious cycle,” Hao adds, noting that the proprietary nature of risk assessment algorithms renders any sort of accountability impossible.

In notes from the Data for Black Lives conference held earlier this month, Law for Black Lives executive director Marbre Stahly-Butts lays out the precise danger of new data-driven approaches to criminal justice:

“Data-driven risk assessment is a way to sanitize and legitimize oppressive systems … Demands of the community to change the system are being ‘met’ with an increased use of technology which actually lead to more over-surveillance of minority communities.”

In an age when the data industry has become entirely financialized, Big Data-driven policing has become a lucrative business. And while the economic gulf widens between poor communities and the one percent, with schools being defunded and health care growing less accessible for the poor, the surveillance industry and private jail industry are seeing a windfall of taxpayer dollars.

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Pope Francis Becomes First Pope To Endorse Same-Sex Civil Unions

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Pope Francis has become the first Catholic pope to openly endorse same-sex civil unions. The comments were made in “Francesco,” a new documentary about his life that recently premiered at the Rome Film Festival.

The film features a series of new interviews where the pope discussed some of the issues that were most important to him, including the environment, poverty, racial and income inequality, and discrimination.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered,” Francis says in the new interview.

This is not the first time that Francis has spoken on this issue, but it is the first time that he has publicly discussed it as a sitting pope. When he was serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. Francis is now the first pope to advocate same-sex civil unions.

The Rev. James Martin, who advocates for LGBT Catholics, praised the comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”

“The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Of course, there are also plenty of more conservative leaders in the Catholic Church who were critical of the pope’s comments.

Ed Mechmann, director of public policy at the Archdiocese of New York, said in a blog post that the pope has “made a serious mistake.”

It is also important to note the distinction between same-sex civil union and marriage. Marriage is seen as an institution of the church, although it is a tradition that has been practiced under a variety of different religions.

Fewer people these days are identifying as religious, and even fewer as catholic, but many still get married in churches out of a sense of tradition. Some of the more conservative churches still want to refuse to formally recognize a same-sex civil union as a “marriage,” and wish to separate these into two classifications.

For most people, equality under the law and legal recognition of the union is what is most important, but recognition by the church will still be important for members of the LGBT community who identify as catholic.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization of LGBT Catholics, said that the pope’s comments are “historic.”

“At the same time, we urge Pope Francis to apply the same kind of reasoning to recognize and bless these same unions of love and support within the Catholic Church, too,” he said in a statement.

Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.

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Man Tried To Steal Every Newspaper In Town To Hide Story About Him Stealing Election Signs

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It was like something out of a movie or a cartoon. An Iowa man attempted to steal every newspaper in his small town, just so his neighbors couldn’t see that he was listed in the police blotter for stealing election signs. Unfortunately for him, his outrageous plot to cover up his local act of election interference backfired, because the case ended up making national headlines.  

Peter De Yager got a small mention in the September 2nd edition of the Dickinson County News and he wasn’t happy about it. De Yager had recently pleaded guilty to stealing a Joe Biden election sign from a neighbors yard, so his name was listed in the crime roundup section of the paper. Just three sentences were dedicated to De Yager on the third page of the paper, but he seemed determined to keep news of his arrest private. 

After the issue featuring De Yager was released, the staff at Dickinson County News began getting reports that entire stacks of papers had gone missing from numerous locations around town.

Dickinson County News staff writer Seth Boyes told As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong that a delivery driver was the first to notice that something was wrong.

“He told us that there were no papers anywhere along his route that day. And he also happened to mention that there was one location, at least, that told him they had some footage of a guy stealing all the papers on their on their security cameras. So from that point, I started making some calls,” Boyes said.

De Yager is a well-known businessman in the area, and a regular customer at many of the stores that he stole from, so he was identified immediately. In fact, one of the store owners recognized De Yager and didn’t even call the police, but just confronted him the next time that he came into the store. 

Boyes said the staff at the newspaper also figured things out pretty quickly.

“I got to thinking about why anyone would want to take all the papers. And it did occur to me that we’d run that police blotter, what we call the Sirens, in that week’s edition. It was kind of a long shot, we thought, but, you know, maybe it was,” he said.

As Boyes pointed out, most news is distributed on the internet these days, and print editions are more commonly sent to the homes of subscribers.

“The paper is not only available online, but subscribers get the paper directly mailed to the residents. So stealing papers out of the racks is going to have an effect, but not as large an effect as one would think,” Boyes said.

Only one of the stores, a Jiffy station, decided to press charges, while the other locally-owned stores simply accepted an apology and a repayment. 

“We went around to the various convenience stores, and some of them opted not to press charges if he agreed to come in and pay for the papers,” Spirit Lake Police Lt. Daren Diers said.

De Yager pleaded guilty to theft and trespassing for taking about $20 worth of newspapers from the Jiffy gas station, and has paid the other convenience stores back for the papers that were taken.

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Rudy Giuliani Caught With Hands In Pants In Hotel Room Scene With “Borat’s Daughter” In New Film

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Rudy Giuliani is among the high profile figures who were pranked for Sasha Baron Cohen’s new Borat sequel, and so far his encounter is the most embarrassing. Cohen and Maria Bakalova, the actress who portrays Borat’s daughter in the film, brought Giuliani into their prank by posing as conservative TV journalists.

They conducted an interview with Giuliani where they were extremely agreeable and after the interview, Bakalova went back to a nearby hotel room with him for a drink. The room was rigged with hidden cameras, which recorded Giuliani untucking his shirt and reaching into his pants.

Once he began to reach into his pants, Borat runs into the room and shouts, “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”

Just after the incident, Giuliani called New York City police to report the incident, claiming that he was the victim of a scam or a set up.

Giuliani described the encounter to the New York Post, saying that, “This guy comes running in, wearing a crazy, what I would say was a pink transgender outfit. It was a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top, it looked absurd. He had the beard, bare legs, and wasn’t what I would call distractingly attractive. This person comes in yelling and screaming, and I thought this must be a scam or a shakedown, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away.”

Giuliani said that he later realized that it was Sacha Baron Cohen and was relieved that he didn’t fall for their prank, although he seems to be the only one that thinks that.

“I thought about all the people he previously fooled and I felt good about myself because he didn’t get me,” he said.

Of course, the encounter made Giuliani look very creepy, but no laws were technically broken because Bakalova is 24-years-old and initiated the encounter. They were also interrupted before Giuliani got the chance to do anything illegal.

The plot of the new film revolves around Borat’s quest to give his daughter to a powerful US politician as a gift. As with the last film, Borat encounters a variety of different Americans in his travels, and their interactions are intended to illustrate a sort of culture shock that he is experiencing, while also satirizing the cultures of both America and Kazakstan.

However, due to the overwhelming success of the first film, Borat’s face was very easy to recognize for most of the people who he attempted to prank, so he needed to get creative and don disguises so his targets would feel more comfortable and let their guard down.

In one scene, he wears a very realistic Donald Trump disguise and crashes the American Conservative Union’s Conservative Political Action Conference, while Mike Pence is giving a speech.

In the scene, which is shown in the trailer, Cohen is seen running through the conservative convention wearing the Trump mask, and carrying an unconscious woman over his shoulder. He bursts into the room where Pence is speaking and shouts “Micheal Paenis I brought that girl or you.” Mike Pence looked directly into the crowd, glaring at Cohen.

The new film will be available to stream for Amazon Prime subscribers on Oct. 23.

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