Ten Things Every Poverty Lawyer Needs to Know About Technology and the Emerging "Digital Welfare Dystopia"

Thursday, May 13, 2021 from 1:30 PM - 2:30 PM

In today's data-driven world, all poverty lawyers need to understand how clients are affected by new technologies, surveillance techniques, and big data business models. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights recently warned that a digital welfare dystopia is emerging, in which "systems of social protection and assistance are increasingly driven by digital data and technologies that are used to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish." As poverty lawyers, we need the tools to push back on these systems, which include automated decision making and biometrics in public benefits regimes; facial recognition technology deployed in private and public spaces; and algorithmic predictions to screen prospective tenants and employees and to target consumers. This session will discuss the top ten threats lawyers need to know to effectively respond to these challenges and to fulfill our basic ethical duty of competency. Through these ten lessons, poverty lawyers will learn to issue spot digital privacy harms; understand governing legal frameworks; identify concrete steps and strategies we can take to alleviate risks and harms; and consider some potentially positive applications of tech tools in poverty law.



  • Michele Gilman, Civil Advocacy Clinic, University of Baltimore Law School