New seminar explores legal issues at the intersection of race, technology, and the law

When Associate Professor Chaz Arnett became a full-time faculty member at Maryland Carey Law in fall 2020, his innovative research exploring matters at the intersection of race, technology, and the law—such as false arrests of Black men made on the basis of faulty facial recognition and how electronic ankle bracelets further racialized surveillance—was an important factor. 

“At this historical moment when we are, as a society, confronting the deeply important issues of criminal justice and racial equality, we are incredibly fortunate to have Chaz Arnett joining the faculty,” said Dean Donald Tobin at the time. “Our students and the Maryland Carey Law community will benefit greatly from his scholarship, and his selfless commitment in working for equal treatment under the law for all.”  

As anticipated, Arnett hit the ground running and, in spring 2021, he introduced a new class—one of the first law school offerings in the country of its kind—focused directly on giving students an opportunity to explore issues around race and technology. Titled Race, Technology, and the Law, the seminar, which was capped at 15 participants, centers on investigating, analyzing, and understanding the racial bias and harm associated with the use of advancing technologies, including algorithms, artificial intelligence, surveillance technologies, social media platforms, predictive analytics, and digital databases. 

Arnett’s goal with the course is for students to “develop critical insight into challenges and reform strategies to address identified problems and gain valuable skills in racial justice advocacy.” 

Through a deep dive into the building body of literature on “techno-racism,” student-led presentations, and visits from top scholars, including Megan Stevenson from UVA, Kate Weisburd from GW, and Jessica Eaglin from IU Bloomington Law, Arnett built an experience that does just that. 

Maria-Gracia Beltran ’22 was drawn in by the content, which she calls “modern,” “relevant,” and “needed.” As a Latina law student, the rising 3L says she was already tuned in to ways in which racism is built into systems and policies in the United States but found the research around technology eye-opening. “A lot of people think technology is unbiased,” she says, “it’s not.”  

Pursuing the Health Law Track, Beltran chose for her in-class presentation to explore the use of information from DNA databases as forensic evidence and how the practice intensifies racial disparities in the criminal legal system. The topic, she says, brought together many of her deepening interests. 

Beltran appreciated the rigorous discussions that took place in the class and is now encouraging her brother Luis, a rising 2L, to register when it is offered for the second time in spring 2022. With high demand, Arnett is considering expanding participation from 15 to 20 students. 

Students are attracted by the important topics addressed in the class and Arnett’s expertise. He is one of just a few scholars in the country producing work in this space. Arnett’s recent publications include “Race, Surveillance, Resistance” in Ohio State Law Journal and “From Decarceration to E-carceration” in Cardozo Law Review. His latest, Black Lives Monitored is forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal OnlineThe Baltimore native is passionate about his research and the role he says law schools must play in readying students to be conversant in this area of inquiry. 

This is what we need to be talking about today,” says Arnett. “Law is going to play a fundamental role in uncovering how technologies may act to exacerbate racial injustice, and lawyers need to be prepared for wrestling with these issues in whatever area of work they may pursue.”  

Recognizing his thought leadership, Data & Society Research Institute named Arnett one of its three 2021-2022 faculty fellows. The institute, based in New York, is an independent non-profit focused on studying the social implications of data and automation. Arnett’s fellowship project will involve the impact of criminal law and policy on the relationship between racial and surveillance capitalism. 

“I am really excited to work alongside my cohort and other Data & Society researchers,” says Arnett, “to further meaningful work examining issues at the intersection of race and technology.” 

Prior to joining the Maryland Carey Law faculty, Arnett was an assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he was designated as a Distinguished Public Interest Professor for his commitment to furthering social justice in his teaching, scholarship, and service.  

Before teaching, he served as a trial attorney with public defender offices in Baltimore and New Orleans, and as a staff attorney with the Advancement Project, where he assisted in local and national campaigns aimed at combating the school-to-prison pipeline. As a recipient of the Satter Human Rights Fellowship, he also worked with the International Center for Transitional Justice on issues of constitutional development in Zimbabwe, and asylum cases for Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa. Arnett is a graduate of Harvard Law School. 

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