Criminal Law and Technology

Criminal lawyers at the crossroads

Criminal Law and Technology

♫ Sex crime, sex crime
Nineteen eighty four
Nineteen eighty four...

— Music & Lyrics by A. Lennox, D. A. Stewart,
recorded by The Eurythmics.

What will criminal law look like in 2041? There is a host of technologies being developed that are reshaping the entire criminal law playing field. From artificial intelligence (“AI”) to developments in surveillance, biometrics, DNA analysis, cellular triangulation, evidence analysis, voice recognition systems, advanced camera and image analysis and enhancement, Internet search technologies, the growth of the “dark web,” facial and voice recognition software, robotics, “shot spotter” technology, licence plate recognition, and many others that seem to walk out from CSI TV episodes and into our lives.

Other emerging projects seek to use real time computer and pattern analysis to predict and prevent crime. Using a network of cameras and technologies, these projects seek to analyze and assess suspicious activity and predict emergent criminal behaviour, alerting authorities far faster than traditional methods.

Still other projects seek to use AI to predict elder victims of financial and physical abuse, allowing authorities to intervene to prevent or stop such exploitation.

Robots and drones can be utilized to inform police regarding potentially dangerous situations and assist with public safety without putting the public and/or police in harm’s way.

DNA analysis is growing increasingly sophisticated; enhanced by the growth in forensic sciences.

On the court side, there is the increased growth and development of court management computer systems worldwide and the increased realization of the benefits that such systems bring to the administration of criminal justice. There is the work of such academic and non-profit organizations worldwide such as HiiL (The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law) that combine a data and research-based approach and best practices to promote people-based access to justice solutions.

Increasingly, courts world-wide are slowly gaining access to technology in order to present the range of high-tech evidence being collected by police and prosecutors working together. The Air India case in BC was a good example of a high-tech court designed around the needs of the Crown to present the volumes of video and documentary evidence that were amassed during the case efficiently and effectively.

Then there is the growth of trial preparation and trial presentation software along with case management systems available to defence lawyers to assist in the handling and presentation of their cases. From simple PowerPoint files to sophisticated trial presentation software on iPads, tablets, laptops, and other devices, to transcript, audio and video analysis tools, and others, criminal defence lawyers can present, highlight, call-out, compare, present, and emphasize evidence in ways never before possible that serve their client’s needs.

Technology is a tool. In the context of criminal law, it also raises ethical issues such as the due protection of privacy and the protection of constitutional rights. It raises issues of inherent bias built into algorithms and data analysis. There is the issue of transparency of such systems, as many will be proprietary and not open to analysis. Neural networks, quantum computing and other such emerging computing technologies are not well understood and, as such, explaining how they arrive at their conclusions may not even be possible. There is the danger of profiling and unfairly targeting individuals and/or groups. There is the danger of using systems to determine recidivism, particularly if someone is assessed at low risk and then goes on to commit violent acts.

Nineteen Eighty-Four gave us one insight into how technology, applied for the wrong purposes, could be used to control a whole world. Criminal lawyers stand at the cross-roads, guarding against such excesses and protecting liberties. But to do so, they must understand the emerging high-tech landscape in order to exercise their persuasive powers against
such misuses.