Surveillance Isn't Colorblind

During the 1960s, the FBI and NSA followed, wiretapped, and bugged Martin Luther King Jr. — all under the veil of proper legal process. Today, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security spy on Black Lives Matter activists under the guise of “counterterrorism” and “situational awareness.”

“Everyone is being watched, but not equally,” Georgetown Law’s Alvaro Bedoya noted in a recent panel discussion in Washington, DC.

Indeed, invasive technology has made it easier for law enforcement to target groups or individuals. Homeland Security has been monitoring Black Lives Matter protests for nearly two years and collecting information on activists’ activities from Facebook, Twitter, Vine, and other social media platforms.

While mass surveillance is a problem for everyone, these tools aren’t used blindly. Due to biases shaping police practices, people of color, religious and ethnic minorities, and political dissidents are far more likely to be victims of unwarranted monitoring.

The growing use of facial-recognition technology and massive databases that store and record sensitive information — from fingerprints to iris scans — has helped make it all way too easy. Government agencies use such tools to spy on our online activities, monitor our movementsscan our bodies and faces, and record our interactions with authorities.

The FBI, along with state and local police, is able to search the databases storing this information without any real oversight. The FBI has even requested that its new database, which contains more than 411 million photos, be exempt from federal privacy laws, judicial review, and appeals processes designed simply to update records and correct factual errors.

These databases contain a disproportionate number of records on communities of color and immigrants. Why? Because racial bias in law enforcement skews the number of police stops and arrests of people of color, and immigration policies sweep up anyone applying to become residents or naturalized…

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