About Chris Crawford

Christopher Andrew Crawford is a 2016 JD candidate at Harvard Law School.

Corruption Could Kill the Elephants–It’s Time to Ban All Ivory Trade Now

The ivory trade is spiraling out of control, accelerating very quickly in the past five years especially. A new study estimates that 100,000 elephants were killed in 2010, 2011, and 2012. With only about 400,000 elephants left, conservationists believe African elephants could be extinct in the wild within the decade. Unfortunately, this is a problem with no clear solutions, not least because corruption enables every aspect of the ivory trade. Inadequate enforcement of already-leaky laws has contributed to a situation wherein organized criminals collaborate with government officials to supply illegal ivory that is now worth more than its weight in gold.

Some have suggested that the ivory trade should be opened up and regulated, allowing governments to levy taxes to pay for increased enforcement and conservation. Most who have studied the issue conclude that this idea is madness — rampant corruption at every link in the supply chain means that illegal ivory would have no trouble working its way into the legal markets. The presence of a legal market, with legitimate supply channels, would merely accelerate the elephants’ demise.

What is needed instead is a renewal of the bans on ivory trading that were set in the late 1980s, the last time the ivory trade threatened the elephants’ existence so dramatically. Of course, corruption can undermine a ban as well. Nonetheless, a reinvigorated ban regime would be an important step forward, and seeking it is thus a worthy goal. Continue reading

Shedding Sunlight on Procurement

In a previous post, I extolled the virtues of Big Data in the fight against corruption, including in the important realm of government procurement. From the UK to Georgia to the Czech Republic, government procurement agencies have been collaborating with civil society groups to analyze their data, uncovering inefficiencies that range from the mundane to the outright corrupt. Governments are not alone: international development agencies like the World Bank are embarking on similar projects.

But there’s a problem. Big Data needs lots of data to work, entailing a high degree of government transparency and massive disclosures — sometimes called Open Government — that are sometimes at odds with the goals of anticorruption. In the case of government procurement, public data watchers need to know which firms bid for the project, at what price, and who won on what terms before they can play a useful watchdog role. However, as Rick has pointed out on this blog, public disclosure rules in procurement has the perverse effect of enabling private collusion. Cartels of contractors can agree amongst themselves to inflate their prices and select which among them will receive the contract, and are able to enforce their shady agreement because, of course, all offers are public.

Rick’s concerns seem to be directly implicated by the newly-proposed Open Contracting Data Standard, a push to “enhance and promote disclosure and participation in public contracting.” The project essentially asks every procurement agency in the world to upload their contracting documents onto the internet in a standardized manner that would encourage public oversight, including through the use of Big Data tools. So, is the push for open government procurement data doomed to backfire, creating collusion where perhaps it did not even exist before? Fortunately not. The increased risk of collusion is completely outweighed by the potential for the use of Big Data and other civil society monitoring techniques. Continue reading

Big Data and Anticorruption: A Great Fit

There is no shortage of buzz about Big Data in the anticorruption world. It’s everywhere — from public efforts like Transparency International’s public procurement analysis to cutting-edge private-sector FCPA compliance programs implemented by Ernst & Young. TI has blogged about Big Data and corruption, with titles like “Can Big Data Solve the World’s Problems, Including Corruption?” and “The Potential of Fighting Corruption Through Data Mining.” Ernst & Young’s conclusion is more definite: “Anti-Corruption Compliance Now Requires Big Data Analytics.”

In previous posts, contributors to this blog have written about how the anticorruption community was excited about social media-style apps (“crowdsourcing”) in anticorruption efforts. Apps like iPaidABribe allow citizens to report their encounters with corrupt officials, generating a fertile data set for anticorruption activists. Big Data is a related effort: activists can mine huge amounts of data for patterns that reveal corrupt activity, making it a powerful tool for transparency. However, as the name suggests, Big Data requires massive amounts of data in order to be useful.The anticorruption community should throw its weight behind proposals to open up data sets for Big Data analysis. As with crowdsourced anticorruption efforts, the excitement surrounding Big Data could quickly turn into disappointment unless this tool can be integrated into the broader anticorruption effort. Continue reading

Automatic Government Retention of All Official Emails: An Easy Anticorruption Reform

Former Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is currently under fire from Republican opponents and transparency advocates for her (alleged) circumvention of Federal recordkeeping laws. While this particular scandal (or pseudo-scandal) may soon pass, as have numerous other such scandals, the anticorruption community should take this opportunity to voice its support for a badly-needed reform to recordkeeping laws, to ensure that official emails sent by people in a position of public trust should be immutably preserved.

It seems almost too obvious, but “lost” and “misplaced” emails are often a major impediment in corruption investigations. At least three ongoing corruption investigations are touched by email deletions, to say nothing of past investigations:

  1. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed his government to begin purging un-archived emails after 90 days, even as controversy and a Federal investigation swirls around his dismantling of the Moreland Commission. (He has now altered his policy somewhat)
  2. A Federal investigation into hundreds of millions of procurement dollars spent by the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) has been dragging on for years, crippled in part by missing emails that were “compromised” before the DRPA could turn them over to the U.S. Attorney. The DRPA (partly overseen by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie whose own history with deleted communications is muddled) lost 18 months worth of emails received by a single key official during a key period of time, due to a “software malfunction” with their in-house email system. DRPA’s Inspector General has since resigned in frustration.
  3. In a glimmer of hope, although recently-resigned Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber instructed members of his government to delete emails ahead of an FBI and IRS corruption probe, they refused to do so.

This is an absurd state of affairs, and entirely unnecessary. There is absolutely no compelling reason to not automatically preserve every email sent and received by civil servants. This is 2015: it is literally more expensive to take the time to actively delete emails than it is to simply keep them. Either governments haven’t realized this yet, or their claim that emails should be deleted for the sake of “efficiency” is in fact a red herring. I suggest the latter. The continued absence of appropriate email preservation rules for public servants, which would be incredibly easy to implement, will continue to frustrate anticorruption efforts. Continue reading

Demand-Side Prosecutions: Be Careful What You Wish For

Many anticorruption activists and commentators–including many contributors to this blog (see here, here, here, and here)–dream of a world in which acts of transnational bribery would trigger not only an enforcement by the “supply-side” state (that is, the home or listing jurisdiction of the bribe-paying firm) but also parallel enforcement against the bribe-taking public officials by the “demand-side” government. In such a dream world, if a large US multinational were to bribe a public official in a developing country to obtain contracts, two things would happen: the US would prosecute the firm under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and the government official who took the bribes would be prosecuted by their domestic authorities. This would create a strong deterrent effect, both for the companies for the government officials.

I, too, support the vision of a truly global fight against corruption. But perhaps some caution is warranted. This is one of those areas where the old adage to “be careful what you wish for” may apply. Continue reading

An International Success, Applied in the US: The OECD Law Enforcement Group as a Model for US State Prosecutors

In the United States, the federal government plays a lead role in prosecuting corruption at the state and local level–and many anticorruption advocates and scholars (both in the US and internationally) credit this federalization of anticorruption enforcement with getting rampant local corruption under control. Indeed, the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section was founded in 1976 precisely because it was thought that federal enforcement efforts were required to fill the vacuum created by the inability or unwillingness of state and local law enforcement authorities to bring cases against government officials in their own communities.

Leaving aside for the moment the substantial federalism and sovereignty concerns that have been leveled against this approach, it seems that the federalization of state and local corruption prosecutions worked, and contributed to a significant reduction in corruption across the United States. For this reason, anticorruption advocates frequently suggest that the US experience with federal enforcement should serve as a model for the international community. For example, Judge Mark Wolf’s proposal for an International Anticorruption Court explicitly draws on the US approach, and was likely influenced by Judge Wolf’s personal experience as a federal prosecutor of state and local officials.

I would like to propose the reverse: The United States should take a page out of the international enforcement playbook to improve state-level prosecution of state and local corruption, by implementing something like the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention’s closed-door meetings of law enforcement officials, but for US state-level prosecutors. Here’s why: Continue reading

Crowdsourced Anticorruption Reporting, 2.0

Crowd-based reporting tools have garnered tremendous attention for their role in anticorruption efforts all around the world. Deservedly so: these platforms harness rapidly increasing internet and mobile access in the developed world to tackle the age-old problem of corruption. Perhaps the best known of this new wave of crowdsourced reporting tools, iPaidABribe (which started in India and has been successfully recreated in other parts of the world), allows any citizen with a smartphone or other access to the internet to report bribery incidents nearly-instantaneously. Citizens can report the amount of a bribe, the recipient of the bribe, the institution that took or demanded the bribe, and so on — all anonymously. Visitors can read the reports as well as view a sort of “heat map” that aggregates the reports to demonstrate where bribery is most prevalent. The very act of broadcasting one’s own experiences with corrupt officials, and the commensurate naming-and-shaming effect this has when many such reports are aggregated, is proving to be extremely powerful.

To be sure, not all attempts to use modern internet and mobile technology to crowdsource anticorruption reporting have been as successful. Some (perhaps most) platforms never really get off the ground. Observers on this blog and elsewhere have pointed out that this may be due to a mismatch between local social conditions and the platform itself. These challenges are real, but I want to focus for now on platforms that have managed to gather and report significant data on corruption. Even in these cases, some commentators have pointed out, the full potential of crowd-based corruption reporting platforms has yet to be realized. The data they are gathering is still relatively “raw” and unprocessed by entities that could really use it — such as government anticorruption agencies. Thus it is important to highlight how these platforms can improve, and how they can avoid having their efforts thwarted by unwanted side-effects. As platform developers move past their early obstacles and start achieving real success in their primary goal — getting people to use their reporting system — the need now is to direct the platforms and their potential partners in such a way as to enhance their effectiveness and to avoid the possibility that their data will be misused. Continue reading