About Matthew Stephenson

Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Guest Post: ChatGPT in Anticorruption Research–You Cannot Make This Up!

Today’s guest post is from Dieter Zinnbauer of the Copenhagen Business School’s Sustainability Center:

Jim Anderson over at the World Bank blog and Matthew Stephenson on this blog kicked of an interesting discussion about how the new era of artificial intelligence—particularly the natural language chat-bots like OpenAI’s revolutionary ChatGPH—will affect the anticorruption field. As Matthew suggested, the ability of ChatGPT to generate plausible-sounding (if a bit bland) summaries and speeches on corruption-related topics should inspire all of us real humans to aim to do more creative and original—and less bot-like—writing and speaking on anticorruption topics. And both Jim and Matthew suggested that in this field, as in many others, ChatGPT can also be a valuable aid for researchers and advocates, performing in seconds research and drafting work that might take a human being several hours.

Yet while ChatGPT may be able to assist in some tasks, we shouldn’t get too excited about it just yet, especially when it comes to research. Some of its limits as a research tool are already well known and widely discussed. But I wanted to call attention to another problem, based on a couple of recent experiences I had trying to use ChatGPT as a research aid. Continue reading

Another Annual CPI Is Out. Yet Again, Here’s a Gentle Public Service Reminder Not to Focus on Year-to-Year Changes in Individual Countries’ Scores

Every year for the last umpteen years (I’ve lost count), shortly before or shortly after Transparency International releases its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and associated reports and press releases, I’ve done a blog post reminding everybody that we should not attention to year-to-year changes in individual countries’ CPI scores, and we certainly should not construct elaborate narratives about how well countries are doing in fighting corruption based on those changes. And every year, TI itself and pretty much all the media coverage of the CPI basically ignores this and does it anyway. If anything, TI seems to have gotten worse about this in the last couple of years.

Still, it seems like this admonition bears repeating, so now that TI has released its 2022 CPI, I’ll do it again. Rather than repeat, yet again, all the reasons that looking at year-to-year changes in an individual country’s CPI score is uninformative and counterproductive, I’ll just supply links to posts from prior years explaining why this is so. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As I’ve also said many times, I like the CPI! I’m not one of those academics who likes to trash it. I think it provides a lot of relevant information, and is very useful for many research and advocacy purposes. But really, frustrating as it is to keep hammering on this same message, these scores cannot be used as indicators of progress or backsliding, and should not be so employed.

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Paul Massaro

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In latest episode, host Liz David-Barrett interviews Paul Massaro, senior policy advisor for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (known as the Helsinki Commission), an independent commission of the U.S. Federal Government that works to advance security by promoting human rights, democracy, and international cooperation. The discussion focuses on new initiatives to counter kleptocracy, proposals to strengthen U.S. anti-money laundering laws, the effectiveness of international sanctions on kleptocrats and their associates, and the importance of counter-kleptocracy work to ending the war in Ukraine.

You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack was originally founded as a collaborative effort between GAB and the Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (ICRN). It is now hosted and managed by the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends!

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Margaret Hodge

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. In latest episode, host Sam Power interviews Dame Margaret Hodge, an MP in the UK parliament who has previously served in multiple ministerial positions. Dame Hodge discusses integrity and corruption issues in the UK, the UK’s role in wider international patterns of corruption, and a number of practical responses to these issues. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations: KickBack was originally founded as a collaborative effort between GAB and the Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (ICRN). It is now hosted and managed by the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends!

New Podcast Episode, Featuring Shannon Green

A new episode of KickBack: The Global Anticorruption Podcast is now available. (The episode came out a few weeks ago; I apologize for the late announcement, but I’ve been traveling for a bit.) In latest episode, host Liz Dávid-Barrett interviews Shannon Green, Executive Director of USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force, about USAID’s new anticorruption strategy, as well as the general challenge of fighting kleptocracies and USAID’s new dekleptification guide. You can also find both this episode and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

KickBack was originally founded as a collaborative effort between GAB and the Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (ICRN). It is now hosted and managed by the University of Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption. If you like it, please subscribe/follow, and tell all your friends!

Some (Semi-Serious) Fun With AI-Generated Anticorruption Content

I’m not much of a tech person, but even I have been following with great interest the rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), particularly the buzz around ChatGPT, Open AI’s natural language chat bot. As most readers are probably aware, ChatGPT has an uncanny ability to generate decent (if rather formulaic) responses to an extraordinary variety of inquiries. It can respond to follow up questions, make modifications upon request, and (I am told) write and revise computer code. I’ve only played around with it a little, and I haven’t come close to exploring everything it can do, but I thought I’d see what sorts of content in generates when asked some basic questions about the fight against corruption. This started as a kind of just-for-fun experimentation, but I actually think the content that ChatGPT generates on this topic might be useful grounds for further reflection from the anticorruption community, both about how this tool might be helpful in our work, and about how the content this tool generates might prompt us to strive to make our own work more creative, distinctive, and forward-looking.

In the remainder of this blog post, I’ll provide — without any editing — the responses that ChatGPT provided to the following three queries/requests:

  1. How can we fight public corruption effectively?
  2. How can we generate the political will to fight corruption?
  3. Write a keynote address for the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

Here are the AI-generated responses to each: Continue reading

Specialized Anticorruption Courts: The Updated U4 Paper and Panel

Last month, I posted an announcement regarding a panel, which I moderated, at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, on specialized anticorruption courts, which was held in conjunction with the release of the updated U4 Issue paper on that topic. (The original paper, which I coauthored with U4 Senior Advisor Sofie Schütte, was published in 2016.) Several readers who were not able to attend the livestream of the panel expressed interest in seeing the video recording, and I am pleased to say that the video is now available here.

The description of the panel, as it appears in the U4 website linked above, is as follows: Continue reading

KickBack is Back! And Under New Management.

As many GAB readers know, in addition to this blog, I’ve been co-running the KickBack anticorruption podcast–in collaboration with Nils Kobis and Christopher Starke of the Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (ICRN)–since March 2019. We have all very much enjoyed the opportunity to interview leading anticorruption thinkers and practitioners on the podcast, and to use that platform to share our guests’ insights with the larger anticorruption community. That said, the time had come for us to move on to other projects. But we did not want the podcast to die, and I am pleased to say that it won’t! As of last month, the ICRN and GAB have officially handed over the podcast to the team at Sussex University’s Centre for the Study of Corruption (CSC). I have no doubt that the CSC team will do an excellent job, and I look forward to being a regular listener. I’ve been remiss in announcing this changeover, as well as the first several episodes of KickBack that have been released under CSC’s leadership. Three episodes have gone up in the last month and a half:

  • In the November 4, 2023 episode, Professor Elizabeth David-Barrett, the CSC’s Director, interviews Daniel Kaufmann, currently a senior fellow at Results for Development (R4D) and President Emeritus at the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI). He is also a former Director of the World Bank, where (among other things) he helped develop the Worldwide Governance Indicators. The conversation covers many topics, but focuses primarily on the emergence and evolution of the concept of “state capture,” with attention to several case studies in countries such as the Balkans, South Africa, the UK and US.
  • In the November 17, 2023 episode, Professor Dan Hough interviews Maggie Murphy, the CEO of the Lewes Football Club and a former Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Transparency International. After discussing her journey from anticorruption campaigning to football management, Maggie discusses the ethical problems affecting football, how these issues exacerbate inequity between the men’s and women’s games, and what an alternative vision for ethical club management could look like.
  • Finally, in the most recent episode, released on December 6, 2023, Professor David-Barrett interviews yours truly! This functioned partly as an official “passing-of-the-torch” episode (and it’s admittedly a bit self-indulgent), as Liz and I discuss the background for the KickBack podcast, why we started it, and why platforms like this might make a valuable contribution. But we also have the opportunity to talk a bit about my advice for up-and-coming corruption researchers, as well some of the themes in my research over the last couple of years, including my theoretical work on incremental versus “big bang” approaches to anticorruption reform, and my coauthored work on anticorruption in nineteenth and early twentieth century U.S. history.
Again, I’m just delighted that the CSC team will be taking the podcast forward over the next several years. I will continue to announce new episodes on the blog, and I look forward to listening and learning.
You can also find the new episodes and an archive of prior episodes at the following locations:

The European Court of Justice’s Invalidation of Public Beneficial Ownership Registries: A Translation

One of the most important developments in the fight against corruption—and other forms of organized criminality—over the last couple of decades has been the push for greater transparency in the ownership of companies and other legal entities. An increasing number of countries now require artificial legal entities (“legal persons”) to provide information on their true beneficial owners—that is, the actual human beings (or, in the language of the law, the “natural persons”) who own or control the entity—to the government and to potential investors or potential business partners who need to conduct due diligence on those entities. Many anticorruption activists believe that there should be even greater transparency in corporate ownership, and that the information in these so-called beneficial ownership registries should be made publicly available.

These pro-transparency advocates achieved an important but partial victory back in 2015, when the European Union issued its Fourth Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Directive. The Fourth AML Directive instructed EU Member States not only to collect beneficial ownership information in a central register, but to make that information available to anyone who could demonstrate a “legitimate interest” in accessing the information. In 2018, pro-transparency advocates scored an even bigger victory when the EU issued its Fifth AML Directive. The Fifth AML Directive dropped the requirement that those requesting beneficial ownership data show a “legitimate interest”; the directive instead required Member States to make corporate beneficial ownership information publicly available, unless an individual beneficial owner could show an exceptional interest in keeping his or her ownership interest confidential.

Just last month, though, the push for corporate ownership transparency suffered a setback at the hands of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ ruled that the provision of the Fifth AML Directive that required the provision of corporate beneficial ownership information available to any member of the general public was invalid because it violated two provisions of the European Union’s Charter on Fundamental Rights: Article 7, which states that “[e]veryone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications,” and Article 8, which provides that “[e]veryone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her,” and that “[s]uch data must be processed … on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law.”

Many anticorruption organizations condemned the ECJ’s decision, though there appears to be some disagreement about just how consequential the ruling will turn out to be. (The ECJ issued a subsequent clarification—also released on LinkedIn—that journalists and civil society organizations concerned with money laundering, corruption, terrorist financing, and related issues would have a “legitimate interest” in accessing beneficial ownership information, and should therefore continue to have access under the terms of the now-reinstated Fourth AML Directive.) I have my own views on the underlying policy dispute—I’ve come out tentatively in favor of making corporate beneficial ownership registers public (see here and here)—but I thought I should read the ECJ opinion carefully to better understand the rationale behind the decision, and what space (if any) it leaves for moving in the direction of greater corporate ownership transparency.

I may try to weigh in on that latter question in a future post, but in this post, I want to focus on the ECJ decision, and I want to do something a bit unusual. Here’s the thing: The ECJ opinion is terrible. And I don’t mean that it’s terrible with respect to the outcome. Though I disagree with that outcome, reasonable people can debate the merits of public beneficial ownership registries, and how to balance the interest in transparency against the interest in privacy. I mean that the opinion is terrible as a matter of reasoning and craftsmanship. The writing is just godawful—full of unnecessary verbiage, awkward phrasing, circumlocution, and obfuscation. And the terrible writing obscures the shocking thinness of the legal reasoning. If I were grading this as a final exam, it would be a B-minus at best, and that’s only because of grade inflation.

It occurred to me that other people who want to better understand and evaluate this decision might find the opinion even more impenetrable than I did. So I decided to take the liberty of translating the ECJ’s decision from English into English. I didn’t bother with all the prefatory material in the first 33 paragraphs of the decision—my translation exercise focused only on paragraphs 34-88, which contains the court’s legal reasoning (such as it is). I’ve also interjected a few snarky comments throughout in italics. Again, this is my paraphrase of the court’s opinion—if you want to see the original, you can find it here. But in all seriousness, I thought it would be helpful to others to have a more readable version of the court’s opinion, so they can draw their own conclusions. And now, without further adieu, here’s my translation: Continue reading

Reminder: Workshop on Specialized Anticorruption Courts Starting Imminently! Join Us on Zoom!

As I mentioned in my announcement last Friday, the Christian Michelsen Institute is hosting hosting a panel today, which I will be moderating. on specialized anticorruption courts, featuring panelists Sofie Schütte, Olha Nikolaieva, Marta Mochulska, and Ivan Gunjic. The panel starts in half an hour (at 8 am US East Coast time/2 pm Bergen time), and it is possible to join by Zoom. I hope some of you out there will join us, as I think, based on the quality of the panelists and the inherent interest of the topic, that it should be a good discussion.