Cyber Civil Rights: How Data Analytics Can Shape Civil Rights Litigation at the NAACP

Click here to learn more about author Kwame Gyamfi.

Taking on the position of Chairperson for the Information Technology Committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in my local district opened up a challenge for me to see how and where my skill sets fit within the oldest civil rights organization in the nation. For those of you that do not know about the NAACP, it is the organization that led the civil rights movement in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks are past historical icons that laid the foundation for this generation that has benefited from the social status of historically disenfranchised communities. Landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education, Virginia v. Loving and others have changed the face and landscape of the political and socio-economic conditions in the United States.

Now, the question remains; what’s next? The digital paradigm called the ‘Internet Age’ has empowered the individual in ways that were unimagined just two generations ago. Mobile devices and twitter have made it possible to reach remote parts of the world in the matter of seconds. Therefore, this collaboration and interchange of data has challenged both the legal and software engineering professions to find a happy medium.

I think we found it. Cyber Civil Rights (#CyberCivilRights) are the new frontier for civil rights litigation. In this new frontier legal questions regarding personal data, privacy and the use of your private information will be the cornerstone of this movement. For example, who owns your Facebook data? Is this data a cooperative exchange between the individual and the corporation? Yes, technically, the terms and agreement we accept from Facebook makes our data available for Corporations to share across various platforms and devices. This cooperative agreement includes legally sharing your profile and information with law enforcement officials. In the matter of Microsoft v. USA, the company is alleging that government officials are over reaching and abusing this cooperative privilege.

How will an organization like the NAACP address the issue of racial injustices when data is platform independent and appears colorless? Some would argue data is data. In more complex cases one might have to consider the impact a data analytics report on housing data has on determining violations of the Fair Housing Act. Then who are the parties at fault? What jurisdictional boundaries hinder the civil prosecution of such cases? Is the analytics report even admissible in court? These complex questions are easily answered by the litigation team that chooses to embrace data analytics as a viable tool to advance the success of their cases. The NAACP in our district has taken the challenge of using data analytics to understand the complexity of foreclosures and the impact this litigation has on communities. Hence, the Information Technology Committee looks at census.gov data in order to formulate a community demographic profile. Then we correlate this profile with historical financial data from hud.gov and make inferences based on bar charts over a twenty-year period.

This approach gives the attorney an indication as to how foreclosures are impacting a community. In addition, hud.gov data provides detail information about the lending institutions and servicers that are conducting business in these districts. The data often times can tell us whether or not foreclosures fraud has been committed by looking for spikes in the scatter charts that indicate whether elderly constituents are being targeted with reverse mortgage schemes or whether or not new homeowners are inflating their incomes and purchasing more homes then they can afford.

In closing, there is no question about the power of big data as a viable tool in the investigative and legal lifecycle process. These and other questions are at the heart of this new cyber civil rights frontier. In my opinion, the NAACP has secured its position in embracing data analytics applications that will add value to their organization mission. I am just happy to be a part of the team that will shape and mold the next generation of NAACP litigation and contribute to this organization’s Civil Rights legacy.

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