The key decisions that shape people’s lives—decisions about jobs, healthcare, housing, education, criminal justice and other key areas—are, more and more often, being made automatically by computers. As a result, a growing number of important conversations about civil rights, which focus on how these decisions are made, are also becoming discussions about how computer systems work.

Earlier this year, a path-breaking coalition of major civil rights and media justice organizations released the Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data, highlighting how the growing use of digital surveillance, predictive analytics, and automated decision-making impacts core civil rights concerns. We served as technical advisors to that coalition.

After the release of the Principles, there was an outpouring of interest from policymakers, community advocates, corporate leaders and the public. People want to know more about the concrete examples that motivate this work. How and where, exactly, does big data become a civil rights issue? This report begins to answer that question, highlighting key instances where big data and civil rights intersect. We hope it will serve as a valuable resource to everyone involved in this important, emerging conversation.

David Robinson, Harlan Yu, and Aaron Rieke, Upturn (formerly Robinson + Yu)