Category Archives: LAWMAKERS

This Algorithm & Robots Decides Crime Cases Almost As Well As A Judge

A Robotic computer program could help relieve the massive backlogs facing the world’s highest courts

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A computer algorithm took on the work of real human judges and did a pretty good job, predicting the decisions of one of Europe’s highest courts with 79 percent accuracy. The finding suggests artificial intelligence could help the world’s busiest courts work through their massive backlog of cases, even if an algorithm isn’t about to take up a digital gown and gavel and start actually deciding cases.

The AI analyzed cases tried before the European Court of Human Rights, which hears cases from people and groups who claim their civil or political rights have been violated in their home countries. An international team of computer scientists worked with a legal scholar to determine just how well AI could predict the court’s ultimate judgement based on how the written decision described the factual background of the case and the arguments of the parties involved. They found it agreed with the judges’ decision four of five times — and that the underlying facts of the case were by far the best predictor of the outcome of a case, rather than any of the more abstract legal arguments.

“The fact that we can get this accuracy, it means that there are some consistent patterns of violations that lead to overturning the [previous court’s] decision,” University of Pennsylvania computer scientist Daniel Preoţiuc-Pietro told Vocativ.

That suggests the court is typically less concerned with parsing philosophical questions of whether a specific instance is a human rights violation than it is determining how that situation fits into their already defined categories of violations. Preoţiuc-Pietro pointed to the example of people who allege mistreatment in prison as a situation that typically led to decisions in those people’s favor. “That’s definitely more likely for the court to actually accept that the state made a mistake and the people involved were actually justified,” he said.

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The AI used what’s known as natural language processing to analyze the cases. This particular method involved looking at the text of a decision as a big bag of words, not worrying about any particular word order or grammar. Instead, the AI looked at what individual words and combinations of two, three, or four words appeared most frequently in the text, regardless of order. The AI then looked at all these combinations, known as N-grams, and clustered them into different overall topics.

The court’s decisions include lengthy sections recapping not only the factual background of the cases but also the original arguments made by the parties in the case. This gave the AI a broad sense of what each text was talking about and gave it the context necessary to predict the outcome of the case, which it did correctly in nearly four out of every five cases.

But that doesn’t mean the researchers are hoping to see AI judges anytime soon.

“We’re not advocating for automating any decisions,” said Preoţiuc-Pietro. “Decisions should still be made by the judges.” Where the AI can make a difference is in helping determining which cases make it to the judges in the first place.

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In 2015, the researchers found that nearly 85,000 petitions were submitted to the court, of which just 891 were actually decided upon. All the rest were thrown out as inadmissible, meaning the court couldn’t take them on and the previous decision by a lower court would have to stand. The European Court of Human Rights relies both on individual judges and committees to work through all these cases and figure out which are worth bringing to the actual court’s attention. Last year, that meant the entire court apparatus had to process more than 230 cases every single day, making it a huge challenge just to give each petition the human attention it deserves.

Artificial intelligence, by contrast, could zip through 85,000 petitions and decide which were most likely to be worth the court’s time, based on how similar each petition is to the court’s previous cases. Preoţiuc-Pietro suggested the algorithm could separate the cases into three groups based on the court’s prior history: those the court would likely rule on, those it likely would rule inadmissible, and those in a gray area. Committees could then devote more time to examining the cases already identified as being of uncertain status, rather than having them take valuable time doing all their own categorization.

“These committees are time-limited and beyond that very costly, so they can actually look at just the flagged cases which are more likely to be disputed and analyze them more thoroughly,” said Preoţiuc-Pietro, “while the others they can be sent for just individuals and they don’t need to be scrutinized by more people.”

The goal then wouldn’t be to take the human element out of the law, but instead the complete opposite: The European Court of Human Rights and other bodies like it would have more time to focus more time on its most difficult cases, while the AI would separate out the cases that would likely just get thrown out anyway.

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Henry Sapiecha

 

UK refuses to reveal how many lawmakers are under surveillance

UK Home secretary Theresa May did confirm that members of devolved parliaments and the European Parliament are not subject to wiretap protections.

UK home secretary Theresa May speaking on BBC radio image www.intelagencies.com

UK home secretary Theresa May speaking on BBC radio (Image: BBC/Twitter; file photo)

The UK’s home secretary Theresa May has refused to confirm how many fellow lawmakers have had their communications intercepted by British intelligence agencies.

In a brief confrontation in the parliament’s House of Commons on Monday, fellow Conservative Peter Bone MP said May’s refusal to answer was an “indication” that some members of parliament (MPs) have been subject to surveillance by UK intelligence agencies.

The emergency session follows a ruling last week that determined the so-called Wilson Doctrine, a promise made by former prime minister Harold Wilson that said members of parliament won’t have their mail opened or phones tapped by the intelligence agencies without his direct knowledge, was no longer valid.

May said the doctrine “still applies,” but confirmed that devolved members of parliament in Scotland (MSPs), Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as members of the European Parliament (MEPs), are not protected by the doctrine.

Joanna Cherry MP, a Scottish member of parliament, criticized May’s response, asking why the government thinks the Scottish parliament is “less deserving” of the doctrine’s protection. She added that the home secretary’s “caveated” comments about the doctrine in 2014 suggested the doctrine may have been partly suspended around the time of the Scottish national independence referendum, a national vote that saw Scotland remain as part of the United Kingdom.

Caroline Lucas MP, who brought the case under debate to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, said lawmakers had been “misled” over the level of protections MPs are afforded under the doctrine.

Doctrine ‘cannot work sensibly’

Until last week, the doctrine was kept in force by every prime minister since Wilson, but was expanded in 2002 when former prime minister Tony Blair said the doctrine applied to “all forms” of communications.

But last week, James Eadie QC told the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which hears complaints against the intelligence agencies, that the doctrine “simply cannot work sensibly” in an age of bulk data collection and mass surveillance, and did not have the force or weight of the law.

The IPT said that the UK’s spy agencies MI5, MI6, and GCHQ — the eavesdropping agency whose activities were detailed in an extensive range of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden — have their own separate policies that do not require for the prime minister to be informed where parliamentary communications were collected.

MPs were quick to respond with anger, amid concerns that emails sent to and from parliamentary offices may have been collected or spied on.

In a letter to the prime minister David Cameron, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon asked for clarification, arguing “the confidentiality of communications between parliamentarians and their constituents is of the utmost importance,” according to The Guardian.

MPs not ‘above the law’

Many of the lawmakers on Monday argued that the need to protect their communications from surveillance was to protect whistleblowers, and not about driving a wedge of privilege between them and the public.

David Davis MP, a Conservative politician known for being pro-civil liberties, and who has almost always voted against requiring the mass retention of information about communications, said MPs need the doctrine’s protections against government surveillance because their job is to “hold the government to account.”

He argued that MPs often “deal with campaigners, journalists, whistleblowers, and our own constituents” in bringing to light wrongdoing disclosed by members of the public, including police and public-sector workers, and employees of big corporations.

Chris Bryant MP, who called for the emergency debate following last week’s ruling, argued that MPs “cannot ever be above the law,” a sentiment echoed by others, including the home secretary.

Bryant, a Labour MP with a long record of voting in favor of data retention and communications collection legislation, accused May of withholding any public statement about a change in the doctrine’s standing because it wasn’t “compatible” with the current state of national security.

Davis, in agreement with Lucas and others, said the the doctrine must be enshrined into law.

May will “soon” introduce the so-called “snoopers’ charter,” first mentioned earlier this year in the Queen’s annual speech.

Known as the Investigatory Powers Bill, the Conservative government said the draft law would give authorities “tools” to keep the public safe by addressing gaps in existing intelligence gathering.

Dominic Grieve MP, chair of the Security and Intelligence Committee which oversees the intelligence agencies, said the committee will examine how parliamentarians will be treated under the new draft bill.

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Henry Sapiecha