When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn into office, it marked the first time in American history that Californians held two of the three highest offices in the federal government. No, President Biden is not from the Golden State, but Vice President Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi both hail from the Bay Area. And with Attorney General Xavier Becerra holding a key cabinet position, officials from California now have a sizable role in influencing the Biden agenda.
The incoming administration is rightly prioritizing economic relief and Covid-19 vaccine deployment. On other issues, they’ll have to navigate narrow Democratic majorities in Congress, in which some progressive policies could be nonstarters. To avoid gridlock, these high-ranking Californians can identify policies with broad, bipartisan support, perhaps taking a page out of their home state’s playbook.
In recent years, California has become a national leader on privacy rights. Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County, among other municipalities, have spearheaded strong local laws to oversee governmental use of people’s private information and data.
40 civil rights and immigration groups, including Media Alliance, wrote to the Biden Administration about plans to replace physical walls with surveillance walls at the Mexico border.
The letter expressed concerns about a sharp increase in biometric data collection, immigrants taking more remote and deathly routes to avoid detection, and the use of the border for “testing” highly invasive military grade surveillance.
United to Save the Mission, an umbrella coalition of community based organizations located in SF’s Mission District wrote a letter of objection to a proposed private camera network from the Castro District Business Improvement District, joining the Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas Democratic Clubs and the Castro LBGTQ District in opposing the Castro cameras.
Facial recognition software has become a common part of American life. It’s used by government employment agencies to verify an applicant’s identity, by landlords to monitor tenants, and by police in their investigations, which has resulted in some wrongful arrests. Indeed, studies show that facial recognition algorithms are often inaccurate when it comes to identifying women and people with dark skin tones. Privacy advocates concerned by how law enforcement has used surveillance technology cheered Amazon’s recent decision to extend a moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software, though Amazon gave no reason why it was doing so. We’ll talk to Bay Area experts about how facial recognition technology is being used, why it needs to be closely monitored, and what cities, states and the federal government are doing — or not doing — to regulate its use.
Matt Cagle, technology and civil rights attorney with the ACLU
Brian Hofer,, chair and executive director, Secure Justice
Daniel E. Ho, Scott Professor of Law, Stanford University and also an Associate Director at Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence
Tracy Rosenberg, executive director, Media Alliance
The Berkeley Police Accountability Board, or PAB, discussed a successful perpetrator negotiation on Telegraph Avenue and delayed action for a proposal to expand public safety surveillance camera use in Berkeley at its regular meeting Wednesday.
During the first public comment session, Berkeley resident Kitt Saginor raised concerns about the Berkeley Police Department’s COVID-19 response in light of Berkeley’s loosening mask policies. Saginor urged officers to continue masking within the department and community after photos on social media allegedly showed maskless officers in Target during the omicron surge.
Oakland Privacy representative Tracy Rosenberg advocated against the Automated License Plate Readers policy, which uses cameras to capture vehicle license plates. Expansion of the policy would allow the use of scanning technology beyond parking enforcement, the initial purpose portrayed by City Council.
“This is essentially a breaking of a contract that was made between the City Council and the residents in Berkeley in terms of why this equipment was brought and how it was going to be used,” Rosenberg said during the meeting.
Rosenberg discouraged the board from adding uses to law enforcement equipment due to difficulties in data extraction.
Privacy and criminal justice activists across the country are focusing on gun detection software, and specifically lead vendor, Shotspotter, after the company’s forensic reports threw two innocent men in jail and drew cops into a fatal encounter with 13 year old Adam Toledo in Chicago.
The outdoor microphones, which are predominately deployed in lower income Black and Brown communities, routinely create dangerous situations by sending police alarms of gunfire that never took place. Independent research documents that around 90% of Shotspotter alerts end up with no evidence of gunfire ever having occurred.
Shotspotter has bought a predictive policing company (Hunchlab), promoted their technology’s potential as a drone activation system, and recently announced a partnership with Airobotics, a drone company based in Israel.
We need real solutions to gun violence, not routinely malfunctioning tech that is wildly expensive and drains public dollars.
If you’d like to help our coalition end Shotspotter contracts in the Bay Area and take the message to the company’s doors, watch this space.
The US remains wholly incapable of tracing Covid-19 contagion, but if it tried, we might wind up with “the worst of both worlds” – a horror of coercion and confusion that still failed to stop the epidemic.
“Communities have reasonable fears that at least some law enforcement agencies might use access to contact tracing data to harass low income communities.”
Ann Garrison spoke to Bay Area privacy activist Tracy Rosenberg about the danger that data contact tracing to track the spread of COVID-19 will become available to the surveillance state.
Ann Garrison:Many fear that digital contact tracing to stop the spread of COVID-19 will expand surveillance states’ ability to curtail privacy and control their populations. Can you explain what contact tracing is?
Tracy Rosenberg: Contact tracing is the process of creating a map of a person’s movements and associations in order to identify the possible spread of infectious disease. Before the age of digital technology, it was an onerous process of paper surveys, which while they contained very personal information, had some practical limitations on any additional use. In the age of digital technology, the ability to retain, repurpose and search large data chains is greater than it has ever been in human history. Contact tracing data, when performed by government public health agencies, is medical health data and is protected by the same laws that protect other health data.
AG: What dangers does it pose?
TR: Well, there are quite a few. One is emergency protocols. A large tracing program set up under emergency conditions can often lead to incomplete frameworks and poorly trained personnel, including some with relatively little or no familiarity with health data protections. When data protections, storage and access protocols are not well-planned, leaks, hacks and unauthorized access sometimes occur.