Algorithmic guilt: using secret algorithms to kick people off welfare

A wrenching and beautifully argued essay by Virginia Eubanks describes the inevitable consequences of letting secret, unaccountable algorithms decide who is eligible for welfare. Read the rest

Drug field tests used by cops are so bad they react positively to air, soap, candy

Crappy drug detecting kits used by police yield too many false positives. They result in wrongful arrest and imprisonment of innocent people.

Sage has been mistaken for marijuana; motor oil for heroin; jolly ranchers for meth; and breath mints for crack. In February, a Minnesota man spent months in jail after his vitamin powder tested positive for amphetamines. Soon after the arrest in Tampa, a Hillsborough police lieutenant conducted his own experiment on the NARK II tests, which cost between $15 and $20 for a box of ten. He found that just opening the test bag to the air produced the same shade of purple as exposure to methamphetamine, according to an internal memo. In February, the Hillsborough sheriff’s department announced it had switched to a different field test, made by the same company, which tests for a wider variety of illegal drugs. A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department declined interview requests.

Read the rest