All posts by Midnightschildren

Breaking The Deal To Sell You Your Privacy: Privacy For All


By Tracy Rosenberg. Originally published at Medium.

In a much-heralded backroom deal to end all backroom deals, the State of California launched the California Consumer Privacy Act or CCPA, the “American GDPR” in June of 2018. Days before a statewide ballot initiative was to qualify for the ballot, with high poll numbers and a growing industry slush fund to fight it, California legislators Ed Chau, Bob Hertzberg, Bill Dodd and a few others huddled with real estate millionaire Alistair McTaggart, the initiative author, and decided what online privacy should look like.

The compromise they came up with has been equally lauded and criticized, depending where you sit on the privacy continuum. What everyone has agreed on is that the closed door and very rushed process has left lots of room for a 2019 bout of fixit-itis, with more than two dozen bills this year offering to repair, change, or modify part of the CCPA. The vast majority of these bills are from industry special interest groups, with only one or possibly two addressing the public interest at lage.

But let’s step outside the curtain for a moment and put the political shenanigans away and look at what is really at stake. The heart of CCPA is pretty simple. You should be able to ask a company how they are using your data and who they are selling it to. And you should be able to revoke your consent to the sale of your data. Not that hard to understand, but potentially a stake in the heart of companies that rely on monetizing collected data for targeting super-specific ads. It has been described as a service to receive personalized ads shaped to your specific interests, but many consumers have decided that say, seeing diabetic services ads everywhere you go on the Internet when you are diabetic, is more creepy than it is convenient.

Evidence is growing that when given an opportunity to opt out, many will make that choice. If they can. And that is a big if. Because here is one of the things that happened in that back room that you weren’t in.

Your opportunity to opt out came with another opportunity. The opportunity to pay a less advantageous price than someone who doesn’t choose to opt out. Basically, a privacy tax.It’s true that the privacy tax has to be “reasonably related to the value of your data”, a figure that has been argued about all over the tech press. But the privacy tax could apply every single time you opt out, over and over again across the full spectrum of companies that collect your data. Time to add a privacy section to the family budget.

It’s probably not surprising that a panopoly of little fees didn’t much bother a multi-millionaire. If you’re not struggling to make ends meet, who cares about a bunch of $5 or $10 nuisance fees to address a significant problem? But that is not reality for many California residents who are struggling with sky-high rents and wages that are not rising quickly, or fixed incomes, or periods of unemployment and/or gig labor. Pitting privacy against food or rent or transportation is not a struggle privacy can win, despite polling showing that 90% plus of Californians are gravely concerned about what companies do with their data and want to be able to opt out.

But wanting to opt out and being able to afford to opt out when it comes at a cost, are two very different things. Moving from privacy as a civil rightenshrined in the California constitution to privacy as a commodity for sale is a move from privacy for all to privacy for some. There is a bill to fix the pay-for-privacy problem in the CCPA. Fittingly, it is called the Privacy For All Act (AB 1760). But there is a lot of resistance to it because after all, a deal is a deal.

But expecting working class Californians to honor a deal drafted by millionaires in a back room about their personal data, is unfair. They weren’t consulted and they didn’t agree. Holding the right to opt out hostage for a ransom is simply a bad deal. Attaching financial punishment to exercising privacy rights makes control over one’s own data a rich man’s game with no room at the inn for poor people, the exact people who suffer the most from identity theft, predatory scams and undue tracking and monitoring.

California legislature, don’t throw the poor overboard to protect a back room deal. We need Privacy For All.


Using Criminal Databases On Observers: Urban Shield and CLETS


For the last two years (2017 and 2018) of the Urban Shield weapons expo and SWAT drill in Alameda County, I was a community observer. I went as a citizen to see how my tax dollars were being spent, and as an activist/journalist so I could describe the event to others and to the media. What I didn’t know is that in exchange the Alameda County Sheriff would access my driving record, parking tickets and legal history through CLETS, the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.

Continue reading Using Criminal Databases On Observers: Urban Shield and CLETS

Meaningfully Connecting To Communities in Advocacy and Policy Work


Media Alliance was thrilled to be one two dozen nonprofits interviewed for this funder report on best practices in advocacy. It’s a good read and we recommend checking it out. We agreed to keep closeted our particular quotes, but you can try to guess.

The report was prepared by the Aspen Institute and commissioned by the Fund for Shared Insight, a funders collaborative focusing on elevating the voices of the least heard.



Culture Watch: In Old Age


At the Magic Theater, old age is when time and objective reality start to melt. In Old Age, a cycle play from Mfoniso Udofia, in a multi-play series chronicling a Nigerian family in the United States.

When In Old Age begins, matriarch Abasiama gets an unwelcome knock at the door from a handyman hired by her children to fix up her old house, specifically the rotting wood floors. The play takes a few shot at the indignities of old age, including aching knees, difficulty moving furniture, not wanting to get up in the morning or change clothes, and dedication to television programs, but then moves on to the main event of old age as a portal between then and now and between the life of the mind and the life of the world.

As the two grouse and “get to know each other”, primarily on the basis of the workman wanting to get the job done, and the old woman resisting this unasked-for but somewhat welcome invasion, boundaries of all kinds start to slip and shift and merge. Time, space, and inanimate objects all get way too fluid as the two protagonists enter their battle, which is fundamentally a battle to connect.

For the handyman Azell Abernathy, played with charm by Steven Anthony Jones, the battle is unwelcome. What he really seems to want is to do the job and get out with joviality intact, but he cannot, and ends up confessing to a painful past, unable to answer Abasiama’s relentless inquiry whether or not he is a good man.

For Abasiama, whose past lacks a narrative but metaphorically occupies the beaten down house filled with junk and rotting floorboards, the struggle is to redirect from that vivid relationship with that past, illustrated by the groaning and muttering of the house she lives in, towards another person.

In the end, after the sort of violent transition that rips at both of them, they find themselves speaking each other’s truths, at least for a while.

For more on Mfonisia Udofia’s UFOT cycle, click here.


Trashing The Public Records Act


*Update: On March 13, Senator Hueso announced he was withdrawing Senate Bill 615.

A bill introduced in the CA State Legislature by Senator Ben Hueso cloaks in reasonable-sounding language a determined effort to trash the Public Records Act.

The passage of Senate Bill 1421 and Assembly Bill 748 in 2018, which placed police misconduct records and law enforcement body camera videos into the public records domain, have greatly expanded the body of documents available via California’s Public Records Act.

But Senate Bill 615 adds two new monumental hurdles to a process that can already be opaque and lengthy.

Continue reading Trashing The Public Records Act

San Francisco’s Stop Secret Surveillance Act


The City and County of San Francisco will begin considering a surveillance transparency ordinance in Mid-March, and would become the biggest city in the country to embrace surveillance transparency to date, if they adopt.

But San Francisco’s Stop Secret Surveillance Act will be unique. In addition to mandating board-approval of use policies and impact reports and annual reporting, San Francisco’s proposed legislation would absolutely ban the use of facial recognition software by the City. This would make San Francisco the first city in the United States to prohibit its use by city government.

Continue reading San Francisco’s Stop Secret Surveillance Act

Urban Shield Ends


Update: At the March 14 meeting of the DHS Approval Authority in Dublin, the Urban Shield SWAT drill and weapons show was suspended for 2019, after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors endorsed a 60-recommendation package to demilitarize the disaster preparedness exercise.

The Homeland Security funding body indicated a new RFP for a regional emergency exercise would be issued in 2019. The suspension, and practical end, of Urban Shield, follows five years of escalating community complaints about racism, xenophobia, sanctuary violations and the event’s violent scenarios.

Alameda County Board Chair Richard Valle, who attended the DHS meeting, asked Homeland Security to “forgive him for his compassion” and read aloud several of the recommendations for change, saying he had been “driven to vote for them.”

Alameda County Prez Richard Valle at the DHS Approval Authority

Oakland Privacy press release 3-15-2019


On February 26, after a board meeting that ran for almost seven hours, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to transform the controversial weapon expo and war games drill into a “peacetime mobilization” for natural disasters and community resilience in the face of catastrophe.

Acting to accept 60 of 63 recommendations from their second ad-hoc committee convened to help make the transition, the Supervisors made good on their 2018 pledge to “end Urban Shield as we know it”.

Use this easy one click action to thank them for listening to five long years of appeals from the community.

Continue reading Urban Shield Ends