Home W&L Law Symposium explores power of Big Data algorithms

W&L Law Symposium explores power of Big Data algorithms


washington and leeIn the digital age, most people have become used to the idea that their personal data is more widely available on the internet—part of the economic exchange that enables more personalized shopping experiences and efficient communication with friends and family.

But what happens when companies, or the government, start analyzing that data to develop rules and procedures that might impact our daily lives in less desirable ways? An upcoming symposium at Washington and Lee University School of Law will examine this thorny issue, exploring the legal and ethical implications of big data analysis and algorithmic-derived discrimination.

The symposium, titled “Big Data Discrimination: Understanding Algorithmic Power,” is scheduled for Thursday, March 30 beginning at 10 a.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall on the campus of Washington and Lee. The event, hosted by the W&L Journal of Civil Rights and Social Justice, is free and open to the public.

Symposium organizers point to recent reports showing how big data tools and algorithmic-driven decision making protocols can be used to isolate, analyze, and discriminate against individuals based on race, gender, religion, likely voting habits, residency, consumer behaviors, health status, and other data characteristics. W&L Law Prof. Margaret Hu, who is helping organize the symposium, has studied the government use of database screening and digital watch listing systems to create “blacklists” of individuals based on suspicious data.

“Big data tools can now be used to prevent individuals from working and voting—for example, through the ‘No Work List’ and the ‘No Vote List’—and can also be used to nominate individuals for the No Fly List and even the Kill List,” says Hu.

Featured speakers at the symposium include a number of top scholars in the data privacy field in addition to analysts from the Data & Society Research Institute, an organization in New York City focused on the social and cultural issues arising from data-centric technological development, and the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), a DC-based think tank that promotes responsible data privacy policies. W&L Law and FPF launched a unique strategic partnership in 2015 to enhance privacy scholarship and incubate tomorrow’s privacy lawyers.

The symposium will feature three panel discussions covering big data ethics in research methods, an explanation of big data discrimination, and the impact of big data-centered and algorithmic-centered power. The event will also feature a keynote address by Prof. Charlton McIlwain of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. McIlwain will speak on the intersection of race and digital media, particularly as it impacts the “Information Society” and politics.

McIlwain’s scholarship includes “Racial Formation Online: Representation, Inequality & the Political Economy of the Web,” and he is currently working on a book project, titled “Digital Movement: Black Politics, Organizing & Activism on the Web,” which traces the roots and charts the development of racial justice networks online since the 1990s. He co-authored the book “Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns,” which was selected by the American Political Science Association for the prestigious Ralph Bunche Award.

Participants will gather the evening before the symposium for a discussion with Christopher Wolf ‘80L, Of Counsel at Hogan Lovells and founder of FPF, and Jules Polonetsky, CEO of FPF. MSNBC has called Wolf “a pioneer in Internet law” based on his early involvement in legal cases involving technology agreements, copyright, domain names, jurisdiction and, perhaps most of all, privacy. In 1998, a high-profile victory in a pro bono case against the government for its violation of the Electronic Communication Privacy Act brought Wolf to national attention as a privacy lawyer after his almost-two decades as a litigator in complex commercial and technology cases. Wolf was the editor and lead author of the first Practicing Law Institute (PLI) treatise on privacy law and is a frequent author and speaker on privacy and data security issues.

Polonetsky served as Chief Privacy Officer at AOL and at DoubleClick, and as Consumer Affairs Commissioner for New York City. He is a regular speaker at privacy and technology events and has testified or presented before Congressional committees and the Federal Trade Commission. His scholarship on data and privacy has appeared in the Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, the Stanford Law Review and the Yale Journal of Law & Technology, among other journals.

The symposium is cosponsored by the Provost’s Office, Washington and Lee University; Class of 1960 Institute for Honor; Frances Lewis Law Center, Washington and Lee University School of Law; Mudd Center for Ethics, Washington and Lee University; Washington and Lee Black Law Students Association; Future of Privacy Forum; and the Data & Society Research Institute.



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.

Latest News

missing person

Police: Charlottesville family concerned about 23-year-old man last seen in May

college world series

Live Coverage: UVA, UNC tied at 1-1 in the fifth in 2024 College World Series opener

UVA (46-15), the #12 national seed, faces North Carolina (47-14), the #4 national seed, in the opening game of the 2024 College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha.

elijah gertrude

Breaking News: UVA finally confirms Elijah Gertrude out for 2024-2025 season

It’s finally official: UVA Basketball announced Friday, in a conveniently timed news dump, with the focus of the UVA Athletics fan base on the College World Series, that Elijah Gertrude is out for the season after a scooter accident on April 30.

family concept two boys IVF twins
Health, Politics, U.S. & World News

‘How dare you?’: Senate Republicans reject legislation to protect IVF access

woman inside her home with hand fan
U.S. & World News

Beating the extreme heat: Funds available for AC for families in public housing

richard sanders and weapons seized

Charlottesville: Man arrested with machine gun in Tonsler Park

road work

Traffic alert: Travel lane shifts in Harrisonburg on westbound Route 33 begin June 18