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Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Confronting Cognitive ‘Anchoring Effect’ and ‘Blind Spot’ Biases in Federal Sentencing

Bennett, Mark W., Confronting Cognitive ‘Anchoring Effect’ and ‘Blind Spot’ Biases in Federal Sentencing: A Modest Solution for Reforming a Fundamental Flaw (July 5, 2014). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 104, No. 3, p. 489, 2014. Available for download at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2503423

Cognitive “anchoring effect” bias, especially related to numbers, like sentencing guidelines ranges, is widely recognized in cognitive psychology as an extremely robust and powerful heuristic. It is a cognitive shortcut that has a strong tendency to undermine judgments by “anchoring” a judgment to an earlier disclosed number, the anchor. Numerous studies prove anchoring bias produces systematic errors in judgment in wide-ranging circumstances, including judgments by experts— doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, psychologists, and auditors — as well as a variety of decisions by foreign and American federal and state judges. The anchoring effect occurs even when the anchor is incomplete, inaccurate, irrelevant, implausible, or even random. Roughly corresponding in time with the developing understanding of the anchoring effect, federal sentencing has undergone a revolution from judges having virtually unlimited discretion, to virtually no discretion, and back to considerable discretion, as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines went from mandatory to advisory in a single monumental U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). Surprisingly, since judges were granted much greater discretion in Booker, the length and severity of federal sentences, for the most part, has not changed. This remains true despite long-standing, persistent, and widespread dissatisfaction among federal district court judges with the Guidelines and the length of sentences. This Article argues that this is because judges’ sentences are subconsciously anchored by the calculated Guidelines range. This Article offers a simple, modest, and practical solution that requires no change in existing law by the Supreme Court or Congress. It simply requires rearranging the numerical anchoring information in the presentence report and adding additional relevant numerical information to counteract the anchoring effect of the Guidelines. If federal district court judges are educated about the effect of cognitive anchoring and their own bias-based blind spots to it — their improved awareness can only enhance the fairness of sentencing.”

New GAO Reports – Afghanistan Equipment Drawdown, Bureau of Prisons, Elections, Unmanned Aerial Systems

AFGHANISTAN EQUIPMENT DRAWDOWN: Progress Made, but Improved Controls in Decision Making Could Reduce Risk of Unnecessary Expenditures, GAO-14-768: Published: Sep 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2014. BUREAU OF PRISONS: Information on Efforts and Potential Options to Save Costs, GAO-14-821: Published: Sep 30, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2014. ELECTIONS: Observations on Wait Times for Voters on Election Day 2012, GAO-14-850: Published: SepContinue Reading

Appeals Court Limits Military Surveillance of Civilian Internet Use

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in United States v. Dreyer that an agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service violated Defense Department regulations and the Posse Comitatus Act when he conducted a surveillance operation in Washington state to identify civilians who might be sharing illegal files. The 1878 Act prevents the U.S.Continue Reading

Information Sharing Environment: Annual Report to Congress – 2014

“This report is submitted by the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) on behalf of the President, as required by Section 1016 (h) (2) of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004, as amended. Accompanying, but distinct from this report, are substantial performance data and links to best practices, lessons learned,Continue Reading

Stop-and-Frisk Abuses & the Continued Fight to End Racial Profiling in America – Report

Born Suspect – NAACP – September 2014: “For more than a century the NAACP has been engaged in the fight for a more fair and effective system of policing in America. Indeed, the first case the Association took on after its inception in 1910 involved defending a sharecropper from an illegal police raid on hisContinue Reading

UNESCO Database on the Right to Education

UNESCO Database: “The library contains about 1,000 documents including: Member States’ constitutions, laws, decrees as well as educational programmes and plans. You can search the library by selecting a country region, type of document and/or language.”

New EEOC Report Identifies Common Errors by Federal Agencies in Dismissing Discrimination Complaints on Procedural Grounds

News release: “As part of its continuing efforts to improve the federal sector complaint process, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today released a new report, Preserving Access to the Legal System: Common Errors by Federal Agencies in Dismissing Complaints of Discrimination on Procedural Grounds. In the equal employment opportunity (EEO) process for federal employees andContinue Reading

New GAO Reports – Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Prisons, CFPB, ID Theft, Oil and Gas Transportation, Affordable Care Act

ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: The Corps Needs to Take Steps to Identify All Projects and Studies Eligible for Deauthorization, GAO-14-699: Published: Aug 21, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2014. BUREAU OF PRISONS: Management of New Prison Activations Can Be Improved, GAO-14-709: Published: Aug 22, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2014. CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU:Some Privacy and Security Procedures for Data CollectionsContinue Reading

Mapping Digital Media: Global Findings

Open Society Foundations: “The Mapping Digital Media project examines the global opportunities and risks created by new and digital media. Covering 56 countries, the project assesses how these changes affect the core democratic service that any media system should provide—news about political, economic, and social affairs—and how they can help advance open society values. Is aContinue Reading

FBI Says Biometric Database has Reached “Full Operational Capability”

“The FBI announced that the Next Generation Identification system, one of the largest biometric databases in the world, has reached “full operational capability.” In 2013, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the NGI program. EPIC obtained documents that revealed an acceptance of a 20% error rate in facial recognition searches. Earlier this year, EPIC joined a coalition ofContinue Reading

A day in the life of a data mined kid – report

Adrienne Hill: “Education, like pretty much everything else in our lives these days, is driven by data. Our childrens’ data. A whole lot of it. Nearly everything they do at school can be — and often is — recorded and tracked, and parents don’t always know what information is being collected, where it’s going, or how it’sContinue Reading

Treasure Map: The NSA Breach of Telekom and Other German Firms

Spiegel Online - Andy Müller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Michael Sontheimer:  [Treaure Map] “is the mandate for a massive raid on the digital world. It aims to map the Internet, and not just the large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. It also seeks to identify the devices across which our data flows, so-called routers. Furthermore, every single endContinue Reading