Ending Secret Surveillance in California

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Privacy is the news story of the year.

Intersections between growing aggression from Homeland Security towards undocumented people, so-called “black identity extremists”, journalists, anti-fascism protestors, and pretty much anyone resisting the Trumpian agenda, are melding with the privatization of information  with new industries spouting up to to share and disseminate data collected by high-tech mass surveillance.

It’s a scary time. We need the power to keep ourselves safe. 

FOIA journalists have done an amazing job rooting out the intricate web of connections between local law enforcement and private companies and their high-tech tools, but the public response has left something to be desired.

Except perhaps in Northern California where activist groups like Oakland Privacy have succeeded in applying some reins to the runaway horse, notably in Oakland itself where the country’s first municipal privacy commission has oversight over law enforcement use of spy tech.

Last year, Senate Bill 21, which would have applied the lessons learned in Oakland after the community rose up to defeat the Domain Awareness Center, a Homeland Security-funded spying dragnet that would have made the East Bay city the most heavily-surveilled urban area in the country, stalled out in the CA Assembly.

But the State has another chance in 2018 with Senate Bill 1186, a revamped version that is even stronger than the 2017 bill. It now includes Sheriff’s departments and District Attorneys as well as municipal police departments and covers all kinds of tech, new and old, including what hasn’t been invented yet.

As you would expect, law enforcement opposition is fierce, with assertions that transparency and disclosure would provide a “roadmap for criminals” and massive bulk surveillance and data collection done in secret is the only way to keep us safe.

The track record, however, is very different. Secretive surveillance has opened the door to a laundry list of misuse and abuse, including racial profiling, stalking, the collection of massive amounts of data with no criminal predicate, invasive device searches and the terrorizing of immigrant communities.

It’s time for transparency. Time for an inclusive conversation about the balance between freedom and security, safety and civil rights. It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer money on hi-tech gadgets that have no proven efficacy stopping crime but just make money for private companies scattering our data all over the place. It’s time for sanctuary protections to be real, not feel-good platitudes. It’s time to state affirmatively what is and isn’t okay in our neighborhoods and communities.

It’s time for the California Legislature to step up to the plate.

Take action with the Electronic Frontier Foundation here. 

Yes on Senate Bill 1186.  1984 is here.

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