The Ethics of Big Data in the Law


A basic premise of our legal system is that you are innocent until proven guilty. But what if we could predict who would offend using Big Data?

At its core Big Data is about predictions. It’s about taking large data sets and applying math to infer probabilities.  In the Future of the Professions, Susskind predicts that Big Data will draw conclusions and offer advice as well as or better than a human expert.

But how should we respond to the dark side of Big Data? What if we could predict who would be litigious, who would re-offend criminally, or who would likely sexually abuse children? What if a company, like Google or Facebook, with its vast amount of data fired people based on Big Data, rather than on any wrongdoing? What if the Government placed potential abusers on a Watch List?

In Big Data Ethics, Neil Richards and Jonathan King provide some recommendations. They recommend establishing ethical principles and practices to guide government agencies, corporations, data brokers, information professionals, and individuals. However, principles will not be enough. We will also need laws to limit what we can do with data.

Big Datas predictions are just that: predictions. So to penalize someone before an event would set a dangerous precedent. It would gut the principle of “innocent until proved guilty”. It would place undue deference to a mathematical calculation.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)





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