Combatting modern-day discrimination.

People in historically disadvantaged communities experience widespread disparities in economic, social, and physical health—the result of many years of policies and practices by both public and private entities. In workplaces, job interviews, banks, leasing offices, and other venues, people responsible for making decisions about important life opportunities have often done so in a way that reflects racism, sexism, ableism, and other biases. 

As technology advances, decisions about important life opportunities increasingly are facilitated by software. But like humans, software can exhibit biases. And when it does, decision-making software can perpetuate discrimination.

CTLC represents Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology advancing policy to protect DC residents from this type of modern-day discrimination. Specifically, working on behalf of our client and in collaboration with the DC Office of the Attorney General since early 2020, student attorneys in the clinic have helped draft, revise, and advocate before the DC Council for the introduction and passage of the Stop Discrimination in Algorithms Act (SDAA). The SDAA would ban algorithmic discrimination and institute an auditing regime to ensure that covered entities regularly examine their algorithmic decisionmaking tools and take proactive steps to identify and correct any biases that would violate the ban. 

Student attorneys assigned to this case have met with a variety of experts, coordinated and conducted meetings with DC Council staff, and organized and led a coalition of local and national groups supporting the bill.

Some of the clinic’s relevant recent work:

  • The DC Office of the Attorney General’s press release announcing introduction of the SDAA.
  • The text of the SDAA, which students helped draft, revise, prepare for introduction, and continue to promote among DC Council staff.
  • Staff Attorney and Clinical Teaching Fellow Daniel Jellins’ testimony in front of the DC Council about the SDAA. Students helped him write his testimony and prepare his oral presentation.
  • Daniel Jellins (CTLC) and Cynthia Khoo’s (Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology) op-ed in the Washington Post explaining why the SDAA is important.

Protecting minors from harmful online practices.

As young people spend more time online, it is inevitable that children and teens increasingly will be exposed to online harms, such as invasions of privacy, confusing and harmful advertisements, content that promotes disordered eating and self-harm, and design features that drive compulsive online behavior.

CTLC represents two organizations, the Center for Digital Democracy and Fairplay (formerly the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood), in ongoing advocacy before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) supporting strong children’s privacy regulations and urging the FTC to rein in various practices that harm minors. This is an extension policy advocacy that the clinic has been doing for over 30 years on behalf of leading children’s advocacy groups on issues related to children’s advertising, privacy, and communications.

In recent semesters, student attorneys in the clinic have drafted and filed comments with the FTC advocating for strong regulations implementing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), drafted and filed comments urging the FTC to take action to protect children from dark patterns, drafted and filed a Petition for Rulemaking urging adoption of a trade regulation prohibiting the use of harmful manipulative online design features on minors, and drafted and filed a Request for Investigation arguing that TikTok violated both COPPA and an existing consent decree that the company agreed to with the FTC following past violations. 

In service to this work, student attorneys in the clinic have investigated a large number of apps and games used by children and teens, reviewed and aggregated a large body of psychological research concerning minors, analyzed the application of FTC-enforced statutes to harmful online practices, and developed legal arguments illuminating violations of those statutes. 

Some of the clinic’s relevant recent work:

Pushing back against surveillance of historically disadvantaged communities.

Government and law enforcement surveillance affects all of us, but in many cases it falls disproportionately on people in historically disadvantaged communities. Historically disadvantaged communities thus disproportionately suffer harms flowing from surveillance

CTLC represents a variety of clients to highlight and combat surveillance that affects historically disadvantaged communities. In 2020 CTLC represented Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology on an amicus brief filed in support of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a grassroots think tank working to improve the conditions of Black people in the Baltimore-Metropolitan Region. LBS challenged the constitutionality of a wide-area aerial surveillance program used by Baltimore, a city with a known history of surveilling Black Lives Matter protests. In 2021, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found Baltimore’s aerial surveillance program unconstitutional, and in 2022 LBS reached a strong settlement with the city.

In 2022 CTLC represented the Council on American-Islamic Relations urging the FTC to use its authority to investigate and take enforcement action to correct unfair and deceptive practices in the location data industry. The location data industry collects, aggregates, and sells location information to many other actors, including law enforcement agencies. Location surveillance disproportionately harms American Muslims. Revelations that some of the most popular apps among Muslims were sharing their location data with defense contractors and the military compounded a sense of constant surveillance inside the Muslim community, leading many American Muslims to either stop using apps or take other steps to avoid the deceptive practices.

Some of the clinic’s relevant recent work:

  • Brief of Amicus Curiae in support of Petition for Rehearing En Banc in Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department.
  • Request for Investigation filed with the FTC on behalf of the Council on American-Islamic Relations regarding unfair/deceptive practices in the location data industry. 

Other areas of research and advocacy.

In addition to the cases described above, CTLC represents clients on various other tech policy matters that are not yet public and therefore cannot be described here. In general, these matters, as with our other cases, entail tech-related policy research and advocacy to advance the interests of historically disadvantaged communities.