The Markup: It Takes a Small Miracle to Learn Basic Facts About Government Algorithms

April 1, 2023

And FAST isn’t the only vendor of these systems. For several years, the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has been tracking the spread of technologies from Pondera Solutions, which sells its “Fraudcaster” algorithm to cities and states. Thomson Reuters acquired Pondera in 2020.

Like the reporters at Lighthouse, those covering MiDAS in Michigan, and many of us here at The Markup, EPIC’s staff has primarily used public records requests to try to pull back the curtain on government algorithms. Every U.S. state and many national governments (including the U.S.’s) have a freedom of information or open records law that allows the public to request documentation of government business. It’s an amazing system and the backbone of a lot of investigative journalism. But when it comes to getting information about algorithms that governments have hired private companies to build, freedom of information laws are falling short. Lighthouse’s success is a notable exception, and it took a long time.

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