How Government Lawyers Are Using Data Analytics

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 27, 2016 2:15 PM

Government agencies are usually pretty slow to adopt technological advancements. The federal Veterans Affairs Administration, to give one example, is still notoriously paper-dependent, with its non-digitized files stacked so high they could pose a safety risk to workers. And lawyers are no better. Even forward-thinking firms have been slow to adopt technologies that are already common in other industries.

But, some government lawyers are bucking the trend, putting data analytics to work, and slowly changing the justice system as a result.

The Data on Government Data Analytics

Attorneys from the California and federal governments recently gathered at Stanford Law School's CodeX FutureLaw Conference to discuss "The Role of Technologists in Reforming the Criminal Justice System." That panel, moderated by Stanford Law professor Philip Malone, brought together Stanford researchers, members of the California Attorney General's office and San Francisco's District Attorney's office, as well as a prosecutor from the Department of Justice.

And while they acknowledge that technological change in the government is slow, they also detailed the ways their offices are changing their practices to make better use of technology, according to Zach Warren, who covered the panel for Legaltech News.

In the California AG's office, that change can be seen in the state's OpenData project. The state-wide initiative provides the public with direct access to everything from spending information, to transit data, to library statistics. For the AG's office, that means providing more of the data it collects to the public. "For people who are simply reading an article and want to know more, how can we make the data available to them?" California Special Assistant AG Justin Erlich asked. "OpenData is a good forcing mechanism, as the public pushes government to work harder."

Using Analytics to Catch Criminals

Data analytics are also being used to help prosecute crimes. The DOJ's Kathryn Haun detailed how government prosecutors have used analytics to detect and solve cybercrimes. Haun is most famous for prosecuting the Silk Road case against Ross "Dread Pirate Roberts" Ulbricht, who built an online bazaar for everything from methamphetamines to hit jobs.

Huan used blockchain analytics to help catch Ulbricht, Warren reports. "We were able to look at the blockchain and look at the data from the blockchain for who was stealing from the Silk Road," Huan explained. Of course, she didn't become a data analytics expert herself -- she brought on private companies for that. "These blockchain analytics companies, they're able to tell us, 'These are the top ten transactions from the past year that you should take a look at.'"

But still, change is slow, San Francisco's DA's office's Chief of Staff Cristine DeBerry noted. "I'm in maybe the most forward-thinking office around," she explained, "and we still do hand counts of many things."

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