Our Work

We drive policy outcomes and spark debate through reports, scholarly articles, regulatory comments, direct advocacy efforts together with coalition allies, articles and op-eds, and participation in events including public panels, conferences, and workshops. Here's a selection of our recent work.

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Report with Harlan Yu and Miranda Bogen | 14 November 2017
Police Body Worn Cameras: A Policy Scorecard (2017)

Together with the Leadership Conference, Upturn releases the latest version of our scorecard that evaluates the police body-worn camera policies in 75 major U.S. cities. It continues to show a nationwide failure to protect the civil rights and privacy of surveilled communities.

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panel with Miranda Bogen | 14 November 2017
#LegalHack Body Worn Cameras

Miranda joins DC Legal Hackers and the Lab@DC to discuss trends in body worn camera technology and policy, pros and cons to various implementation models, and privacy risks and costs.

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Report by Harlan Yu and Miranda Bogen | 14 November 2017
The Illusion of Accuracy: How Body-Worn Camera Footage Can Distort Evidence

Today, most major police departments that use body-worn cameras allow officers unrestricted footage review. This report explains why police departments must carefully limit officers’ review of body-worn camera footage, and calls for “clean reporting” to be adopted by all police departments.

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Community Meeting with Harlan Yu | 24 October 2017
DC Community Conversation: Results of the Body-Worn Camera Study

Upturn — together with the DC Metropolitan Police and The Lab @ DC — hosts two community conversations to discuss the results of a recent DC body-worn camera study, which showed that the District’s camera program had no statistically significant effect on officer behavior.

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law journal article by David Robinson | 16 October 2017
The Challenges of Prediction: Lessons from Criminal Justice

This article draws lessons primarily from the domain of criminal justice, to illustrate three structural challenges that can arise whenever law or public policy contemplates adopting predictive analytics as a tool. It then offers some ideas for solutions.

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Op-Ed by Miranda Bogen and Harlan Yu | 12 October 2017
Body cameras are only as effective as the policies that govern them

After St. Louis chose to accept a year of free body-worn cameras from Axon, we argue that the city’s police department needed to significantly strengthen civil rights protections in its BWC policies — particularly around when officers can review footage.

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Law journal article by Logan Koepke and David Robinson | 27 September 2017
Zombie Predictions and the Future of Bail Reform

Bail reform is rapidly underway. But at the same moment that jurisdictions work to reduce the true risks of pretrial release through reform policies, jurisdictions across the country are also adopting statistical tools that will blindly predict such risks remain as high as ever. This forthcoming article charts how jurisdictions can avoid making costly errors in their adoption of pretrial risk assessment tools.

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panel with Aaron Rieke | 15 September 2017
Commercial Use of the Internet and Other Communications Media

At an event hosted by Dialogue on Diversity, Aaron talks about the nexus of commercial data collection and civil rights, including racially-targeted and predatory internet advertising.

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article by Miranda Bogen | 14 September 2017
When drawing a line is hard: Connecting the dots between math, technology, and law in the challenges of gerrymandering

Gerrymandering isn’t just a math problem — it’s a policy fight, legal quagmire, mapping challenge, and statistical puzzle, all wrapped into one. This article explores the math and computer science concepts behind new efforts to ensure fair redistricting processes, and a Supreme Court case that could change how we measure bias in voting districts.

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article by Brianna Posadas | 22 June 2017
How strategic is Chicago's Strategic Subjects List?

Newly released data shows that almost 400,000 people are on Chicago’s “heat list.” Of that group, almost 290,000 have scores that the CPD says will lead to more scrutiny. Our analysis also shows that the most important factor in a person’s score was their age.

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comment by Aaron Rieke | 19 May 2017
Comment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Alternative Credit Data

With The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Americans for Financial Reform, we explore the risks and benefits of new types of credit data for historically disadvantaged groups. The comments spotlight data that is most predictive of likelihood and ability to repay, and least likely to raise fair lending concerns.

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article by David Robinson | 16 May 2017
Why Upturn Is Joining the Partnership on AI

Ever since we launched, we’ve worked to make sure that technology serves the dignity and well-being of everyone it touches. That’s why Upturn is excited to be joining the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society, alongside leading companies and social sector organizations.

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panel with Harlan Yu | 02 May 2017
Police Body Cameras: Building Effective Guidelines That Support Accountability and Civil Liberties

The Charles Koch Institute, The Constitution Project, and Upturn jointly co-host an evening panel to discuss pressing policy issues related to police body-worn cameras, including public access to footage and the potential use of face recognition.

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panel with Aaron Rieke | 27 April 2017
Algorithms and Explanations

At the NYU School of Law, Aaron talks about how and when credit scores can be explained, and the reasons for startling disparities in credit scores among different protected groups.

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amicus letter with Harlan Yu and Miranda Bogen | 21 April 2017
Amicus Letter in Floyd Objecting to the Substance of the NYPD’s Body Worn Cameras Operations Order

Upturn files an objection to the NYPD’s proposed body-worn camera policy, together with the Leadership Conference, the Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, and other groups.

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panel with Miranda Bogen | 14 April 2017
Who Constructs the Future? Activating Citizen Leadership

At the Hometown Summit, Miranda discusses how advocacy around body-worn camera policies might provide a model for local citizen engagement at a conference for city officials, community organizers and artists working to rethink democracy and empower citizens to shape the future of their cities.

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op-ed by Miranda Bogen and Harlan Yu | 13 April 2017
The NYPD's Body-Cam Guidelines Need Fixing

In the New York Daily News, Miranda and Harlan criticize the NYPD for ignoring public opinion while developing their body-worn camera policy. The NYPD’s proposed policies “risk turning these cameras from tools of accountability into something else entirely.”

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op-ed by Harlan Yu | 06 April 2017
America Pays for Free Body Cameras With Its Civil Rights

Over at Motherboard, Harlan explains why Axon’s offer of free body-worn cameras for every cop in America is dangerous. It creates a perverse incentive for departments to rush to adopt camera systems without thinking through the hard policy challenges.

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panel with Harlan Yu | 01 April 2017
Over-Policed and Under Protected: Technology, Law Enforcement and Minorities

The Harvard Human Rights Journal’s annual symposium explores the disproportionate impact of law enforcement surveillance on minority communities both at home and abroad.

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article by Logan Koepke | 30 March 2017
Pretrial algorithms deserve a fresh look, study suggests

Could a pretrial algorithm simultaneously reduce the number of individuals incarcerated pre-trial, failures-to-appear, and the proportion of minorities detained pre-trial? A new study suggests that with the right controls and policies, jurisdictions might be able to do so.

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panel with Harlan Yu | 20 March 2017
New Platforms of Control (or Someone to Watch Over Me)

The 2017 Princeton–Fung Global Forum in Berlin asks the question: “Can Liberty Survive the Digital Age?” Harlan joins a distinguished line-up of speakers including Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers of the Internet.” VIDEO

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Written testimony by Harlan Yu | 13 March 2017
Philadelphia City Council Testimony on the Ongoing Implementation of Body-Worn Cameras

Harlan testifies at a hearing held by the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Safety on the Philadelphia Police Department’s current body-worn camera policy, which is not meeting national best practices.

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law journal article with David Robinson and Harlan Yu | 24 February 2017
Accountable Algorithms

Drawing on computer science expertise, we propose a new governance strategy, using cryptography to prove that a decision is rule-bound and correct, even when the decision comes from a “black box” that is secret or is too complex for direct human inspection.

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panel with Aaron Rieke | 16 February 2017
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Field Hearing on Alternative Data

In Charleston, WV, Aaron explores the risks and benefits of new types of credit data for historically disadvantaged groups.

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talk by Aaron Rieke | 07 February 2017
Data, Algorithmic Power, and the Changing Nature of Work

At the Roosevelt Insitute in New York, Aaron presents to a small group about ways that Upturn has helped drive change to technology companies’ practices.

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Hill briefing with Harlan Yu | 30 November 2016
The Usual Suspects: Bias in Government Surveillance

The Fourth Amendment Advisory Committee holds a briefing for Congress on “the profound impacts of the government’s immense surveillance practices and the different ways it affects different people.” VIDEO

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Panel with Logan Koepke | 30 November 2016
Law and Order Circa 2050

Logan discusses Upturn’s study, Stuck in a Pattern, on a panel focused on predictive policing, civil rights, and the future of policing. VIDEO

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Article by Logan Koepke | 21 November 2016
Predictive Policing Isn’t About the Future

In a piece published in Slate, Logan argues that popular analysis of predictive policing systems too often focuses on their predictions about the future, and less about the historical data upon which they rely.

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article by Aaron Rieke | 03 November 2016
Facebook, race, and ads: The story so far and what should happen next

Facebook can and should do more to protect its users from discrimination — especially in civil rights areas like housing, credit, and employment.

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report by Aaron Rieke, David Robinson, Harlan Yu, and Joris von Hoboken | 01 November 2016
Data Brokers in an Open Society

In a report for the Open Society Foundations, we review the different types of brokerage and profiling products sold by data brokers, survey the relevant legal landscape, and recommend an impact-driven, bottom-up approach to further investigation of data-driven profiling by data brokers.

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lecture with David Robinson | 18 October 2016
Big Data and Civil Rights: A Field Report from Washington D.C.

David describes Upturn’s work — and the lessons learned from it — for a campus audience at Vanderbilt.

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panel with Cathy O’Neil and David Robinson | 17 October 2016
Weapons of Math Destruction

David interviews data scientist and activist Cathy O’Neil about her new book.

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Panel with Miranda Bogen | 13 October 2016
Snowden Effect: The Changing Landscape of Subpoenas, Transparency and Trust

Miranda moderates a discussion on Capitol Hill with panelists from Google and the Open Technology Institute about government surveillance, corporate transparency reporting, and other ways technology companies have adapted to respond to government demands for user data in the post-Snowden world. VIDEO

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blog post by David Robinson | 08 October 2016
Data ethics is a challenge that major foundations can’t afford to ignore

What’s at stake for civil society groups is not only their operational efficiency, but ultimately their effectiveness. In order to succeed in reshaping society, civil society groups must be able to responsibly use the most powerful tools at their disposal—and must also understand how public and private institutions use those powerful tools.

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Report by David Robinson and Miranda Bogen | 06 October 2016
Data Ethics: Investing Wisely in Data at Scale

This project maps the ways that data at scale may pose risks to philanthropic priorities and beneficiaries, identifies key questions that funders and grantees should consider before undertaking data-intensive work, and offers recommendations for funders to address emergent data ethics issues.

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Article by Miranda Bogen | 22 September 2016
Artificial intelligence will force us to confront our values

“Algorithmic accountability” is critical, but it presumes we know what values we’re trying to protect. This article argues that we need to critically think about and publicly debate the social values we’re imbuing into machines, and consider what to do when people fundamentally disagree about what those values ought to be.

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talk by Aaron Rieke | 16 September 2016
In AI We Trust? Ethics & Bias in Machine Learning

Presenting to a group of data scientists in Bend, OR, Aaron discusses the ways that machine learning systems can reinforce bias across the criminal justice system.

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talk by Aaron Rieke | 15 September 2016
Perspectives on Consumer Finance: How Technology Is Changing Consumer Finance

As guest faculty at an American Bar Association event, Aaron presents on the impact of technology on consumer financial services law, and discusses online platforms’ recent ban on payday loan ads.

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report by David Robinson and Logan Koepke | 31 August 2016
Stuck in a Pattern: Early Evidence on “Predictive Policing” and Civil Rights

We find that at least 20 of the nation’s 50 largest police forces have used a predictive policing system, with at least an additional 11 actively exploring options to do so. Vendors shield the technology in secrecy, and informed public debate is rare. Early research findings suggest that these systems may not actually make people safer.

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article by David Robinson | 31 August 2016
“Predictive policing” is happening now — and police could learn a lesson from Minority Report.

Law enforcement’s blind faith in a tool that doesn’t always work — a tool that can easily finger the wrong person, with terrible results — provides the central tension for that blockbuster film, and a vital lesson for our present.

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Article by Miranda Bogen | 26 August 2016
How Google Has Managed the Tricky Balancing Act of Geopolitics

Over in Newsweek, Miranda looks at the history of Google’s policy decisions about border designations in Google maps.

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article by Aaron Rieke | 11 August 2016
Don’t let the hype over “social media scores” distract you

How much of the public concern and reporting about “social media scores” has come untethered from reality.

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Report with Harlan Yu and Miranda Bogen | 02 August 2016
Police Body Worn Cameras: A Policy Scorecard (2016)

Together with the Leadership Conference, Upturn releases a scorecard that evaluates the police body-worn camera policies in 50 major U.S. cities. It shows a nationwide failure to protect the civil rights and privacy of surveilled communities.

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article by David Robinson | 31 July 2016
Airbnb’s racism problem is much bigger than a few racist hosts.

A visit to Oakland sparks David to reflect on Airbnb’s wider impact.

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Article by Logan Koepke | 03 June 2016
FBI seeks to shield its massive biometric database from public scrutiny

The FBI is proposing to exempt its entire NGI database from the basic regulations and requirements of the Privacy Act of 1974 — the very law designed to govern how the FBI handles this type of sensitive information. In this piece, Logan explains why that move is troubling for civil rights.

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op-ed by David Robinson | 26 May 2016
In 3 years, Chicago police have tripled their use of a secret, computerized “heat list.”

The list aims to predict who will be involved in future shootings. Its growing role in Chicago policing is a taste of what’s ahead.

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Panel with Harlan Yu | 23 May 2016
Fairness by Design: How Can Big Data Advance Opportunity for All?

Harlan joins Julie Brill, former Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, and Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, in a discussion about civil rights and data science. VIDEO

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article by Aaron Rieke | 13 May 2016
Google was right to get tough on payday loan ads

After Google’s announcement that it will ban ads for payday loans, Aaron explains why this was a good call.

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panel with David Robinson | 05 May 2016
The Intersection of Poverty and Data: How Big and Open Data Helps and Harms People in Poverty

David takes part in a panel as part of Philly Tech Week.

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Talk with Harlan Yu | 08 April 2016
The Promise and Peril of Body Cameras

At the inaugural Color of Surveillance conference at Georgetown Law examines how the U.S. government has monitored African American communities from the colonial era to the present day. In his talk, Harlan discusses how police departments nationwide are using body-worn cameras to surveil communities of color. VIDEO

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Article by Logan Koepke | 24 March 2016
Should secret code convict?

A popular new DNA analysis tool, TrueAllele, claims to help law enforcement solve crimes by analyzing DNA mixtures or degraded samples. But its creator argues that the program’s source code is a trade secret. In this piece, Logan argues that sometimes, defendants should be able to see the source code of software that helps to convict them.

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Hill briefing with Harlan Yu | 17 March 2016
Overseas Surveillance in an Interconnected World Understanding Executive Order 12333 and its Reach

Harlan joins panelists from the National Security Agency, the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Cardozo Law, to discuss the implications of the NSA’s overseas surveillance activities under EO 12333. VIDEO

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Panel with Harlan Yu | 15 March 2016
Protecting Broadband Privacy: The Privacy Obligations of ISPs One Year After Title II Reclassification

The panel, hosted by the New America’s Open Technology Institute, explores the responsibilities that broadband Internet providers ought to have to protect its customers’ privacy, as well as the FCC’s regulatory role. VIDEO

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article by Aaron Rieke | 10 March 2016
What can your ISP see? Facts to keep in mind as you consider the FCC’s new privacy proposal

“What can your ISP see when you go online anyway?” Aaron offers some concise answers.

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report by Aaron Rieke and Harlan Yu | 01 March 2016
What ISPs Can See: Clarifying the technical landscape of the broadband privacy debate

A technical assessment of the present and potential future monitoring capabilities available to internet service providers.

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panel with David Robinson | 25 January 2016
State of the Net 2016: Dynamic Trends in the Collection and Use of Consumer Online Data

A panel discussion about new privacy rules that the FCC sought to impose on broadband providers. VIDEO

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Webinar with Harlan Yu | 20 January 2016
Body Cameras and Police Surveillance: Police Accountability or Harm?

The Center for Media Justice and the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice hosts its monthly online salon, featuring Hamid Khan from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and Harlan Yu from Upturn. VIDEO

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op-ed by David Robinson | 09 December 2015
Bending The Moral Arc of the Gig Economy

On-demand labor is weakening our sense of fairness. Tom Slee wants to wake us up.

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Panel by Aaron Rieke | 03 December 2015
Can New Types of Online Lending Lower Prices and Improve Consumer Choice?

Aaron discusses the promise of pitfalls of new online lending offerings at the Financial Services Conference hosted by the Consumer Federation of America.

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Panel with Harlan Yu | 02 December 2015
Taking Our Body (Camera) Temperature: Recent Developments from the Field

New America’s Open Technology Institute hosts a panel discussion on the current state of body-worn camera deployments, including their potential impact at our nation’s borders. VIDEO

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Conference with Harlan Yu | 27 November 2015
Data & Civil Rights: A New Era of Policing and Justice

Upturn, Data & Society and the Leadership Conference host a major conference that explores the intersection of technology and criminal justice for law enforcement officers, government agencies, technology companies, civil rights leaders, technologists, and researchers.

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talk by Aaron Rieke | 30 October 2015
Follow the Lead: An FTC Workshop on Lead Generation

Before the FTC, Aaron describes harm arising from online payday lead generation practices, and explains how many lead generators evade state laws.

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report by Aaron Rieke and Logan Koepke | 01 October 2015
Led Astray: Online Lead Generation and Payday Loans

We explain how online lead generation works, describe the risks and legal complexities specific to lead generation for online payday loans, document the widespread use of search ads by payday lead generators, and recommend interventions.

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Statement with Harlan Yu | 15 May 2015
Civil Rights Principles on Body-Worn Cameras

Upturn coordinated the development of a shared set of civil rights principles for body-worn cameras. The principles were endorsed by a major coalition of 34 local and national organizations, including the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, National Urban League, Center for Media Justice, ACLU, and others.

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talk by Aaron Rieke | 08 May 2015
Data, Lending, and Civil Rights Conference

At Georgetown Law, Aaron talks about recent innovations in credit scoring, and how to evaluate risks and benefits of new data usage for vulnerable communities.

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panel with David Robinson and Harlan Yu | 12 December 2014
Civil Rights and Machine Learning: Emerging Policy Questions

A panel discussion at the first-ever interdisciplinary conference on “Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency in Machine Learning” (FATML).

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report by Aaron Rieke | 19 October 2014
Knowing the Score: New Data, Underwriting, and Marketing in the Consumer Credit Marketplace

A “missing manual” for policy professionals seeking to better understand technology’s impact on financial underwriting and marketing.

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report by Aaron Rieke, David Robinson, and Harlan Yu | 01 September 2014
Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future

How and where, exactly, does big data become a civil rights issue? This report begins to answer that question, highlighting key instances where big data and civil rights intersect.

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report with Harlan Yu and David Robinson | 01 April 2013
Collateral Freedom: A Snapshot of Chinese Internet Users Circumventing Censorship

Users in China can’t freely explore the Internet because of the regime’s “Great Firewall.” But special software tools—when they work—can help users around those barriers. We proposed a new approach to developing circumvention tools, a strategy called “collateral freedom.”