Corporate Participation in Algorithmic Policing

HMI DAIS 13 - 9am, 10 December AEST

Cierra Robson (Harvard): Corporate Participation in Algorithmic Policing

Bio: Cierra Robson is a doctoral student in the Sociology and Social Policy program at Harvard University where she is a Malcolm Hewitt Wiener PhD Research Fellow in Poverty and Justice. Additionally, she is the Inaugural Associate Director of the Ida B. Wells JUST Data Lab at Princeton University where she guides research teams in partnership with community organizations to explore how data can be retooled for racial justice. Cierra holds a BA in African American Studies from Princeton University, where she specialized in studies of race and public policy and pursued a minor in Technology and Society. Broadly, her research explores the ways in which technological advancements both reinforce and revolutionize racial inequality in the United States, particularly within the criminal justice system.

Abstract: In over 3000 jurisdictions in the United States, some form of algorithmic policing or surveillance tool is used. Often these tools have discriminatory impacts on communities of color in the United States. This work explores the creators of these algorithmic policing tools and surveillance technologies, and the power they hold over the practice of policing in the US. Drawing on interviews conducted with individuals who work at companies that produce and sell these technologies, I offer an empirical account of the ways in which the use of technological tools in the public sphere outsources central government functions to the private sector. I argue first that the production of algorithmic policing tools and surveillance technologies provides a catalyst for unusually strong relationships between the police and the private sector. Second, I argue that these relationships are asymmetrical: corporate actors have more control over these tools than do police forces once partnerships are formed. From these findings, I suggest that the definition of state power should be reevaluated in ways that include the power of market actors. Finally, I provide a few thoughts on the consequences of this privatization for democratic institutions that might meaningfully be extended to other state institutions like healthcare, welfare, immigration and education.

Date & time

Thu 10 Dec 2020, 9:00am


Cierra Robson (Harvard)


Updated:  2 December 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications