Today we are proud to announce a new project for the Open Knowledge Justice Programme – strategic litigation. This might mean we will go to court to make sure public impact algorithms are used fairly, and cause no harm. But it will also include advocacy in the form of letters and negotiation. 

The story so far

Last year, Open Knowledge Foundation made a commitment to apply our skills and network to the increasingly important topics of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms.

As a result, we launched the Open Knowledge Justice Programme in April 2020. Our  mission is to ensure that public impact algorithms cause no harm.

Public impact algorithms have four key features:

  • they involve automated decision-making
  • using AI and algorithms
  • by governments and corporate entities and
  • have the potential to cause serious negative impacts on individuals and communities.

We aim to make public impact algorithms more accountable by equipping legal professionals, including campaigners and activists, with the know-how and skills they need to challenge the effects of these technologies in their practice. We also work with those deploying public impact algorithms to raise awareness of the potential risks and build strategies for mitigating them. We’ve had some great feedback from our first trainees! 

Why are we doing this? 

Strategic litigation is more than just winning an individual case. Strategic litigation is ‘strategic’ because it plays a part in a larger movement for change. It does this by raising awareness of the issue, changing public debate, collaborating with others fighting for the same cause and, when we win (hopefully!) making the law fairer for everyone. 

Our strategic litigation activities will be grounded in the principle of openness because public impact algorithms are overwhelmingly deployed opaquely. This means that experts that are able to unpick why and how AI and algorithms are causing harm cannot do so and the technology escapes scrutiny. 

Vendors of the software say they can’t release the software code they use because it’s a trade secret. This proprietary knowledge, although used to justify decisions potentially significantly impacting people’s lives, remains out of our reach. 

We’re not expecting all algorithms to be open. Nor do we think that would necessarily be useful. 

But we do think it’s wrong that governments can purchase software and not be transparent around key points of accountability such as its objectives, an assessment of the risk it will cause harm and its accuracy.

Openness is one of our guiding principles in how we’ll work too. As far as we are able, we’ll share our cases for others to use, re-use and modify for their own legal actions, wherever they are in the world. We’ll share what works, and what doesn’t, and make learning resources to make achieving algorithmic justice through legal action more readily achievable. 

We’re excited to announce our first case soon, so stay tuned! Sign up to our mailing list or follow the Open Knowledge Justice Programme on Twitter to receive updates.

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Meg designed the Open Knowledge Justice Programme in response to the important questions posed by the increasing use of information technology, data and algorithms in the justice system. The resulting training curriculum has developed from her experience within Open Knowledge’s School of Data project team, supporting the delivery of data-driven projects aimed at governments, journalists and citizens. Prior to joining the Open Knowledge Foundation, Meg worked as a legal adviser to detained asylum seekers.