First Post



The good, bad, & ugly of tech to prevent sexual assault; high-tech fitting rooms; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Longtime civic hacker Luke Fretwell (founder of the GovFresh blog) announces the launch of Proud City, focusing on delivering “open, responsive digital services” for cities.

  • Microsoft is donating $1 billion in cloud services to nonprofits and university researchers over the next three years, its president and chief legal officer Brad Smith writes. “Our goal is to support 70,000 nonprofits through this initiative during that time,” he says. The effort is a founding initiative of Microsoft Philanthropies, launched last month.

  • Jason Tashea shares with Civicist some of the key findings from a report he recently completed for John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the current state of criminal justice tech and how to support and grow this ecosystem.

  • Lorelei Kelly argues that better civic tech, in the form of tools and platforms that allow for greater citizen participation in lawmaking, could help route around the future disputes like the one now roiling Oregon’s Harney County land occupation. (Something tells me the militia men who think they have the sole authority to interpret the Constitution might not buy into that, but we still could use much better processes for public engagement in lawmaking than the ones we have now.)

  • USC professor Henry Jenkins, who has long argued for the civic value of popular culture, posts a long, two-part dialogue with Tracy van Slyke, founder of the Culture Lab. Part one focuses on her 2014 report Spoiler Alert. Part two looks at how both progressives and conservatives are focusing on using culture to shift political narratives.

  • Some apps for helping victims of sexual assault are useful, like Circle of Six, which sends an urgent help message to six contacts with a single tap. And others, like a new batch from a company called “We-Consent,” are positively awful, writes Nora Caplan-Bricker for Slate.

  • The U.S. Census Bureau is embracing open source, FlowingData’s Nathan Yau reports.

  • The Points of Light CivicX Accelerator is accepting applications now for its Spring 2016 cohort.

  • Code for Australia is launching a six-week academy focused on helping re-imagine public service work.

  • San Francisco’s Office of Civic Innovation is looking for two new 2016 Mayor’s Innovation Fellows and the deadline to apply is February 2.

  • Tech and the presidentials: Some of the emails housed on Hillary Clinton’s home server while she was Secretary of State contained information classified Top Secret/Special Access Program, a higher level than previously reported, according to a letter to Congress from the intelligence community’s inspector general, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian reports.

  • Wired magazine’s editors came up with a list of the 20 tech insiders having the greatest influence on the 2016 campaign. While many of the people named definitely are players in the political tech sector (oddly missing: the team from Revolution Messaging that is powering Bernie Sanders’ internal tech), Wired can’t help but puff them beyond recognition. It’s a silly, silly exercise, starting with this disconnected-from-reality statement: “2016 is the election when Silicon Valley—its players, its policy priorities, and, oh yes, its money—finally upstages the old 20th-­century power structure and seizes control of the political game.” (So that means the top candidates are all in favor of liberalizing immigration policy and strong encryption, right, like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz?) Also, “the nature of power itself is changing,” Wired claims, citing the example of Mark Zuckerberg throwing his Mandarin skills to impress the authoritarian regime in Beijing and promising to use his fortune to “rethink ‘society’.” Gosh, that sounds like the “nature of power” hasn’t changed at all, Wired editors!

  • Crypto wars, continued: A U.K. court of appeal has ruled that the detention of David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, under the Terrorism Act, violated his rights as a journalist, Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian. Miranda had been stopped at Heathrow and detained and interrogated for nine hours without a lawyer after visiting Laura Poitras in Germany, assisting their reporting for the Guardian on the NSA.

  • Life in Facebookistan: India’s internet regulator has rebuked Facebook for its heavy-handed effort to get its users there to support its controversial “Free Basics” program, telling the company, “Your urging has the flavor of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.” Among other things, it criticized the company for claiming to speak on behalf of users it had prompted to lobby the regulator via nudges on its platform, Rohan Venkataramakrishnan reports for

  • Meanwhile in Myanmar, internet usage has exploded from less than one percent in 2009 and 7 percent in 2012 to 62 percent now. And as David Madden of the Phandeeyar Innovation Lab tells Erik Crouch of TechinAsia, Facebook is the internet there. “For millions of people, Facebook has become the go-to site for news, discussion, and debate,” he says. “Publishers will often post news updates and picture stories straight to Facebook, with no link to the homepage,” adds Poppy McPherson of the Coconuts Yango website.

  • I know what you wore last summer: Fitting rooms are going high-tech, reports Kim Bhasin for Bloomberg Business, and this little fact, buried in her otherwise helpful story about improving the clothes shopping experience, may give you pause: “In a partnership with eBay, Rebecca Minkoff stores are testing rooms that let patrons flip through lighting templates to show what they look like in the office, on the street, or at a club. Through radio-frequency identification tagging, screens know what clothing is being tried on and display different colors and sizes.” Caveat emptor: It isn’t just “screens” that “know what clothing is being tried on.” This brings new meaning to tag sales.

Civic Hacking Civic Tech Criminal justice



  • Technology is creating new opportunities for improvement and reform of the criminal justice system.

    In Arizona, a county court created a web and video accessible kiosk where individuals can “appear” in court 70 miles away. Around the country, the ACLU released apps to crowdsource police oversight. And in Chicago, there is a new visualization showing the financial impact of mass incarceration.

    These are just three of the more than 50 projects surveyed in a new report—released today—which I wrote for the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College. The report, Emerging Justice Technologies and the Need for Evaluation, accomplishes three things. First, it introduces justice stakeholders, such as police, corrections, reform advocates, and court officials, to the larger trends of government and civic technology that are behind these new projects. Second, it surveys new criminal justice projects and platforms that aim to improve system efficacy, crowdsource information, and collect and visualize data. Last, it makes five recommendations to better nurture the understanding, creation, and implementation of emerging justice technologies.

    The surveyed projects are exciting, innovative, and many hold promise to increase fairness, efficacy, and comprehension of the criminal justice system. However, unlike building a tool to find a cab or a restaurant, technology affecting criminal justice requires more stringent assessment. The criminal justice system is the greatest point of control the government can have over an individual, so the need to “get it right” is paramount. Therefore, the technologies that compliment or supplant aspects of this system raise unique questions that require a high level of scrutiny and validation.

    Currently, however, critical questions about these new technologies go unanswered. For example, do platforms collecting detailed information about those on community release increase re-arrest rates? Can new technologies compound already present racial bias? Regarding user experience, are projects accounting for those with developmental disabilities, a significant cohort in the criminal justice system?

    For a number of reasons, technological advancement outpaces the capacity to answer questions like these. First, research for this report revealed that while individual projects exist, there is no centralized organization or university initiative focused on researching these new technologies. Second, the organizations creating many of the tools in this report are not in the business of research or validation. Third, this area of criminal justice is still new, which means limited attention and funding. Together, these hurdles mean that we run the risk of iterating projects without first understanding efficacy and potential negative, unintended consequences.

    With this in mind, the Research and Evaluation Center is moving forward with the report’s five recommendations to support civic technology and criminal justice organizations to verify and improve the impact of their work.

    First, the Research and Evaluation Center will build an initiative that brings together leaders from the criminal justice and technology fields. This will be a venue to convene experts and foster open dialogue about how technology can alleviate the myriad of issues confronting criminal justice. Creating this community will allow criminal justice and technology professionals to learn from each other while promoting new ideas and projects.

    Second, once this initiative is created it can begin to identify emerging and best practices through research and evaluation. This research can create a path towards validating practices that will be shared openly among government leaders, technologists, and reformers to improve creation and implementation of projects.

    Third, as a result of this work, a cadre of professionals will be created to span the worlds of criminal justice and tech. These individuals will be valuable for their capacity to understand complex criminal justice systems and technology and their ability to translate for those on either side of the criminal justice-technology spectrum.

    Fourth, this initiative will be inclusive and incorporate previously incarcerated persons and communities that are acutely impacted by the criminal justice system. Those affected by the criminal justice system possess invaluable lived experience that will improve user experience, project development, and user adoption. Last, this work will be used to educate the public on technology’s role in criminal justice and reform.

    Collectively, justice stakeholders, reformers, and those affected by the justice system will benefit from a unified home for emerging justice technologies. However, the bar for success cannot merely be the deployment of a new technology; it must be data driven and informed by the best research. To do otherwise will impede technology’s increasing role in a fairer and more just criminal justice system.

    Jason Tashea is a legal and criminal justice technology consultant at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is also the founder of Justice Codes,  a nonprofit focused on the use of technology to improve access to justice.