' Carlino Mark Natividad | MTTLR

Justice is Blind(ed): The Issue with Proprietary Algorithms in Criminal Investigations

After serving seven years in prison, Lydell Grant was released on bond in November 2019 as a result of exonerating DNA evidence. Grant was convicted of murder in 2012 primarily based on eyewitness testimony, despite the fact that Houston police could not conclude the mixture of DNA found on the victim belonged to Grant. It was not until 2018 when law students at the Texas A&M University School of Law, in partnership with the Innocence Project of Texas, took up Grant’s case and shared the DNA with Cybergenetics, a Pennsylvania-based company that analyzes DNA evidence from crime scenes. Rather than having a human compare the crime scene DNA mixture with Grant’s DNA, Cybergenetics used its proprietary software TrueAllele to conclude Grant’s DNA did not match. Cybergenetics then went further and ran a search using the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which allowed authorities to find the suspect who had confessed to the murder for which Grant was convicted. While the use of TrueAllele has led to exonerations of innocent defendants like Grant, the use of “Black Box Algorithms” whose protected algorithms and source code remain intellectual property of the company that creates them has raised issues of accuracy and fairness. Even though technology seems to have the power to analyze DNA mixtures using a sharper process than lab technicians, the lack of transparency on how the software actually conducts this analysis makes reaching this conclusion definitively almost impossible. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a California firm that works to protect online privacy and speech against corporate and state abuse, appealed the criminal convictions of Billy Ray Johnson, Jr. on...

Scam Likely! Time for Phone Companies to Rise and Shine the Light on Robocalls

  Do you ever receive an incoming call on your cell phone only to see it’s coming from a “Scam Likely”? Robocalls, or automated phone calls usually for scam or spam purposes, have risen to approximately 85 billion calls worldwide in 2018 according to the Hiya Global Robocall Radar Report. Hiya, a Seattle-founded company that detects caller ID information to filter unwanted calls, found on average that ten percent of incoming calls were classified as nuisance or fraudulent, with seven spam calls monthly on average for each Hiya user in the United States. Given these numbers reflect Hiya users, the true number of robocalls per person may in fact be higher.   According to the Hiya report, one of the top types of robocalls in the United States is the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Scam, in which the scam caller falsely impersonates or plays a recording of an IRS employee threatening an unsuspecting taxpayer of late or missing payments. According to a June 2019 IRS news release, “[c]riminals can fake or ‘spoof’ caller ID numbers to appear to be anywhere in the country, including from an IRS office.” The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) states that it “continues to bring enforcement actions against robocallers and has already stopped people responsible for billions of robocalls,” but the FTC only has ten cases listed on its list of cases tagged with “Robocall” since 2010. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted rules in November 2017 that allowed phone companies to “proactively block” robocalls that “appear to be from telephone numbers that do not or cannot make outgoing calls.” However, the FCC...