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testimony | 08.11.17

Data & Society, Fifteen Scholars File Amicus Brief in Pending SCOTUS Case

Marcia Hoffman, Kendra Albert, Andrew D Selbst

On August 11, 2017, Data & Society and fifteen individual scholars—including danah boyd, Julia Ticona, and Amanda Lenhart—filed an amicus brief in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, Carpenter v. United States. The parties were represented by Andrew Selbst of Data & Society, and Marcia Hofmann and Kendra Albert of Zeitgeist Law.

The case implicates the Fourth Amendment’s “third party doctrine,” which states that that people who “voluntarily convey” information to third parties do not have reasonable expectation of privacy. As a result, when police obtain records from a third party, it does not currently implicate Fourth Amendment rights.

Timothy Carpenter was convicted for a string of armed robberies based on cell site location data which placed him in proximity of the armed robberies he was accused of partaking in. The case concerns the legality under the Fourth Amendment of the warrantless search and seizure of Carpenter’s historical cellphone records, which reveal his location and movements over the course of 127 days.

In the brief, we argue that the “third party doctrine” should not apply to cell site location information because cell phones are not meaningfully voluntary in modern society. Cell site location information contains abundant information about people’s lives, and unfettered police access to it poses a threat to privacy rights.

Aided by scholarship and statistics from the Data & Society research team, we provide evidence that the 95% of Americans that have cell phones cannot reasonably be expected to opt out of owning a cell phone to avoid police searches. The research shows that cell phones are:

  1. Necessary to participate in the most basic aspects of social and family life;
  2. Essential public safety infrastructure and personal safety equipment;
  3. Both necessary to find employment, and an important part of workplace infrastructure;
  4. Widely used for commerce and banking;
  5. Key for civic participation;
  6. Key for enabling better health outcomes;
  7. Critical to vulnerable populations; and
  8. Have been recognized as a necessity by the U.S. government in the past.

The case is expected to be heard in the fall of 2017.


D&S lawyer-in-residence Rebecca Wexler testifies about government oversight of forensic science laboratories in the State of New York.

I submit these comments to the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes; the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary and the Assembly Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation. Thank you for inviting my testimony on government oversight of forensic science laboratories in the State of New York. As a Resident at The Data and Society Research Institute, my work focuses on issues arising from data and technology in the criminal justice system. I want to draw your attention to trade secrets claims in forensic technologies that threaten criminal defendant’s rights to confront and cross-examine the evidence against them; to compulsory process to obtain evidence in their favor; and to due process.


D&S affiliate Ifeoma Ajunwa testified at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to discuss big data in the workplace.

Good afternoon, Chair Yang and members of the Commission. First, I would like to thank the Commission for inviting me to this meeting. My name is Ifeoma Ajunwa, I am a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University and an Assistant Professor at the University of the District of Columbia School of Law. I have authored several papers regarding worker privacy, with an emphasis on health law and genetic discrimination, from which my testimony today is largely drawn.

Today, I will summarize a number of practices that employers have begun to deploy to collect information on employees, and my concerns that such information could ultimately be acquired and sold by data brokers or stored in databanks. There are few legal limitations on how this sensitive information could be used, sold, or otherwise disseminated. Absent careful safeguards, demographic information and sensitive health information and genetic information is at risk for being incorporated in the Big Data analytics technologies that employers are beginning to use — and which challenge the spirit of antidiscrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”).


testimony | 10.15.15

Re: Rates for Inmate Calling Services

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights et al, including Data & Society

The FCC capped rates for long-distance calls in 2013 but did not address in-state call rates. Before the Federal Communications Commission’s vote on a proposal to cap prison calling rates and fees for in-state calls, 26 organizations, including Data & Society, signed onto a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler urging him to ensure reasonable inmate calling rates.


Data & Society submitted comments with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in response to their “Request for Comment on Stakeholder Engagement on Cybersecurity in the Digital Ecosystem.”

The digital ecosystem is quickly changing as more services are offered online and as the devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT) proliferate. We recommended that NTIA’s multistakeholder effort attempt to address, among other things, cybersecurity in the Internet of Things, user notification and choice in regard to data collection, and possible civil liberties dilemmas raised by big data and monitoring by numerous devices and websites.

These concerns about the effects of the Internet of Things on cybersecurity and civil liberties need to be addressed while the ecosystem is young. Failure to consider these questions now could leave users vulnerable to a number of threats in the future. Unless devices and services are adequately secured, users will be vulnerable to breaches that could expose intimate information about their bodies and homes to people who were never given permission to access that data. Additionally, without giving users proper notification and obtaining actual consent, users will be unaware of the privacy risks involved in using these technologies and unable to protect the information they consider private. Finally, data collection by online services and by devices that monitor our bodies and environments could lead to abuses of users’ civil liberties.


testimony | 08.15.14

Re: “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?”

Seeta Peña Gangadharan, danah boyd, Solon Barocas

In this letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), New American Foundation’s Open Technology Institute is joined by Data & Society and Solon Barocas, an independent researcher, in asking the FTC to address the ethical problems, legal constraints, and technical difficulties associated with building a body of evidence of big data harms, the issue of whether intentions should matter in the evaluation of big data harms, and the unique context of vulnerable populations and implications for problem solving and taking steps to protect them.

The letter was submitted in response to an FTC request for comments in advance of its workshop, Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?


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