Media Advisory: Law School’s Mitchell Lecture targets the impact of ‘Big Data’

Release Date: March 26, 2015

“There’s a sea change here, a deeper question that is alarming.”
Martha McCluskey, professor of law
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The question “Who rules big data?” and how these information technologies change our understanding and application of the law is the subject of the University at Buffalo’s annual Mitchell Lecture.

When: 2 p.m. Friday, March 27.

Where: Room 106 O’Brian Hall, UB Law School, North Campus.

What: The Mitchell Lecture is the UB Law School’s signature lecture series. This year’s lecture, “Who Rules Big Data? Law, Knowledge and Power,” examines how so-called big data, which are data sets so large or complex they defy traditional data processing applications, can determine decisions and judgment about individuals that may or may not be appropriate and respect their legal rights.

Why: “There’s a sea change here, a deeper question that is alarming,” says Martha McCluskey, professor of law and chair of the event’s organizing committee. “Some people are arguing that big data is not just another new thing for the law to address, but that it really cuts to the heart of what we think of as law. It’s usurping the decision-making of law to a large degree.”

The quantification based on this massive amount of data can take on “the aura of law,” McCluskey says. “It’s a method of decision-making that has the appearance of supreme rationality and objectivity, almost like a divine thing — we’re transcending the human flaws.”

McCluskey cites the example of credit scores, determinations based on such “big data.” They help banks evaluate a potential borrower’s creditworthiness, McCluskey says, but are also used by employers to screen out some job seekers, so that a person’s score determines qualifications in areas that “may have nothing to do with credit.”

Who: Three scholars who approach big data in different ways will lead the discussion.

n  Virginia Eubanks, professor of women’s studies at the University at Albany, will talk about technology and surveillance in the government administration of social welfare programs.

n  Elizabeth Joh, professor of law at the University of California, Davis, will discuss data analysis and surveillance in the criminal justice system.

n  Frank Pasquale, professor of law at the University of Maryland, will discuss his new book, “The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information.”

The lecture is free and open to the public.

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