ACLU Urges King County Council to Halt Funding for Law Enforcement Records System

News Release: 
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Says Transparency Needed for Capabilities of Mark43
The ACLU of Washington is urging the King County Council to take action to halt funding for the acquisition of Mark43, a record management system for the Sheriff’s Office that might infringe on the civil liberties of county residents.  In a letter to the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, the ACLU-WA advocates that committee members act provide greater transparency for Mark43 when the committee takes up the system at its hearing on October 25 at 9:30 am.
“Many unanswered questions remain about how Mark43 could potentially impact civil liberties. While Mark43 may prove to be innocuous, the Council should not move ahead with acquiring it until there is public discussion of the specific capabilities of this system,” said Shankar Narayan, Technology and Liberty Director for the ACLU of Washington.
Mark43 raises concerns for civil liberties because it appears to have powerful new capabilities for aggregating and analyzing data. Without adequate safeguards, that data can be sold or otherwise disseminated to data brokers, who may further sell it to private entities who will feed it into algorithms. Those algorithms play an increasing role in determining how we can live our lives – how we are policed and sentenced, how likely we are to get housing or a job, what we pay for health insurance, and much more. The algorithms often also incorporate many types of bias.
“The Council needs to exercise oversight over technological tools that collect or analyze data, including considering what unintended consequences could result. It is important to know the bases on which algorithms make decisions, including whether they may disproportionately impact communities of color,” said the ACLU-WA’s Shankar Narayan.
Databases used by law enforcement agencies sometimes contain data not associated with any suspicion of criminal activity.  Aggregating such databases can bring together pieces of speculative data that lead to increased scrutiny of certain communities.  Portland, Oregon’s Police Department, for example, recently purged its gang database because of concerns it was racially biased.
Further, the County’s acquisition of Mark43 has not undergone meaningful public scrutiny. And in response to a public records request by the ACLU of Washington, the King County Sheriff’s Office cited ongoing litigation over a trade secret dispute between Mark43 and a competitor as a reason for being unable to release documents with information about Mark 43.
“King County community members have the right to know how potentially invasive tools used by their law enforcement agencies and paid for by their taxes may impact their civil liberties. County officials should not be able to use trade secret claims to evade transparency,” said the ACLU’s Shankar Narayan.