Alumni Highlight

Julie Ciccolini
Monday, October 10, 2022
Julie Ciccolini graduated from the Human Rights Studies M.A. (HRSMA) program in 2018. She was selected for the 2022 Outstanding Recent Alumni Award. The Outstanding Recent Alumni Award honors individuals who have graduated within the past fifteen years and have excelled in the early stages of their careers. 
Please share a bit about yourself and the work that you do
I have dedicated my career to building technology to advance human rights. 
After graduating from New York University, I joined The Legal Aid Society, where I designed software to identify and expose police misconduct.  The software prevented numerous wrongful convictions and sparked a movement to reform police secrecy. After launching a public website with some of the misconduct data in New York,  it ignited a successful challenge to a statewide police secrecy law.
My work on criminal justice has additionally contributed to the repeal of three laws that discriminated against people of color and queer individuals.
After graduating from HRSMA, I went on to become an inaugural member of the Digital Investigations Lab at Human Rights Watch, a first-of-its-kind initiative to apply emerging technology to bolster remote investigations into human rights abuses in over 90 countries.
In 2020, I launched The Full Disclosure Project to help organizations across the country use my software to expose police misconduct in their states.
Please share a little bit about your time in the HRSMA program, such as your research concentration, your favorite courses, your experience with the faculty, and any extracurricular activities. 
I applied to the HRSMA program with a mission. I had been working at New York City’s largest public defender agency and saw how discriminatory the police, courts, and prisons were.  Increasingly, these agencies were employing new predictive technologies to make determinations about people’s freedom.  These technologies were poorly understood but hugely consequential.  
Thus, I came to Columbia to research the human rights implications of predictive and surveillance technology in the criminal justice system.  I paired classes on human rights with classes on surveillance technologies in SIPA and advanced machine learning classes in the mathematics department.  One of my favorite courses was Technology, National Security, and the Citizen with Professor Alexis Wichowski because I learned how civil society can harness the same technologies that governments are using to empower themselves. This had a large impact on the work I have been doing, where we have flipped the police surveillance technologies on their head. 
My concentration did not follow the traditional trajectory of other HRSMA students which were more heavily focused on theory and qualitative research.  Instead, I used quantitative methods to show how technologies can operate in a discriminatory manner. I  appreciated the HRSMA program for allowing me to expand the definition of what human rights work can look like. 
What else have you done since you graduated from the HRSMA program? 
After graduating from the HRSMA program, I joined the international NGO, Human Rights Watch, as a Research Technologist where I applied emerging technology to bolster remote investigations into human rights abuses in over 90 countries.  I also published my own research on human rights issues, including an investigation into the failures of police accountability systems in New York City. 
For the past two years, I have been the Director of the Full Disclosure Project which aims to disrupt the culture of secrecy that shields law enforcement misconduct. The project builds open-source software to track, aggregate, and analyze data about law enforcement misconduct and empowers local partners with direct support in using the software in their jurisdiction. Since then, we have already collected misconduct records on over 100,000 officers from 1,800 agencies across seven states. These records are used to prevent further injustice in the courts and hold police accountable.
Do you have any words of wisdom for students currently enrolled in the HRSMA program? 
I would advise current students to push the envelope of traditional human rights research.  Fighting for human rights requires interdisciplinary approaches that span all industries.  Not all human rights practitioners are researchers or lawyers. You will be most effective if you first find what you are good at and then apply it to human rights initiatives.  If you excel at graphic design, marketing, or computer science, level up your hard skills in that area and then find a way to apply that to human rights initiatives.