During her time as a human rights lawyer, Laura Bingham saw the way new technologies could deepen inequalities — from how tech can be weaponized against non-white racial groups, to which people see profits from new tech’s development.
Bingham is now the executive director of the new Institute for Law Innovation and Technology (iLIT) at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where she wants to make sure her students are active in considering how the disciplines of law and technology intersect.
Kicked off with the 2021-2022 academic year, iLIT has a mission to combat inequality through projects related to technology and society in legal education and legal practice. Bingham said the institute is working toward a future in which technology serves the currently underserved, and is made both by and for those communities.
“The instinct that’s driving a lot of how I’m building this institution,” Bingham said, “is that more and more people who don’t have a hard tech background need to bring tools into this conversation about the relationship between technology and human life.”
Since starting the institute, the ED has hired a handful of students workers and spearheaded several projects working toward its goals.
iLIT launched the William J. Merritt Fellowship, which supports two students per year, from January to December, to conduct guided research on a technology, law and society topic of their choosing. The fellows receive a combination of financial aid and stipend support. The first two fellows were recruited in the spring 2022 semester: One is completing a project about data privacy and dating apps, and the other is researching racial discrimination and policing technology.
iLIT also joined a collaboration with the Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple Law School, working with the Systemic Justice Project within the center to research policing technology. They have been looking at how police are acquiring and using, or not using, newer technologies such as cell phone data extraction tools, surveillance footage, facial recognition tools, and predictive policing within the Philadelphia area.
And iLIT launched a practicum course in partnership with the Open Society Foundation where students are collecting evidence to support litigation for a case related to biometric surveillance technology. They’ve also run a doctrinal colloquium course for academics and practitioners to speak about their current work, giving students a look at different aspects of technology within law.
Bingham said she’s excited to be in Philadelphia because it feels like a city where such an org can create real change. Temple, too, feels to her like an institution that places value on practical experience for law students. She loves mentoring, training and supporting the growth of young professionals, but has also enjoyed building something from scratch.
“I saw the opportunity to build something that was a legal empowerment initiative, and work directly with students who are very close and much closer to communities, and they’re coming into a place like Temple that has this ethos of social justice,” she said. “I found that our students do have a drive for change, which was something that I was hoping I would find, and so I was very delighted that I did in fact, find it.”