A coalition of more than 80 racial justice, faith, and civil, human, and immigrants’ rights groups, including Oakland Privacy, today sent letters to Microsoft, Amazon, and Google demanding the companies commit not to sell face surveillance technology to the government.
January 11 brought the sad news that East Bay alternative weekly the East Bay Express, which had been under financial duress for a while, would be laying off its entire editorial staff and greatly reducing operations. The newspaper’s demise as a staffed publication was immediately caused by a lawsuit by the paper’s former sales manager which awarded back overtime pay and legal fees totaling $750,000 or more.
The loss of the local investigative reporting done by the East Bay Express, which almost always led and spurred later coverage by the region’s dailies, is incalculable. In Oakland itself, where the paper’s reporting was the accountability agent for Oakland municipal government for the past decade, and throughout the East Bay.
Oakland Privacy benefitted enormously from the Express’ tough reporting and as a colleague of mine put it; “It’s safe to say that without the Express, Oakland would have a Domain Awareness Center”. And it wouldn’t have a privacy commission, OPD would still be cooperating with ICE, and BART would not have a transparency ordinance. Among many other things.
We can’t thank you enough, Express, specifically former reporters Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham. It’s a sad day for Oakland and for journalism.
The second iteration of Alameda County’s Urban Shield task force is formulating their final recommendations to implement a resolution by the County Board of Supervisors to re-constitute the Homeland Security-funded annual disaster preparedness drill.
In a seven hour meeting, the five member task force voted for several recommendations, a bunch via an uncontested consent motion and a few more substantive ones on a 3-2 vote.
Among the more substantive recommendations were to:
Eliminate the event’s vendor show – an expo of law enforcement products
Ending the public ranking and scoring of the competing teams so evaluation changes from a “contest” to a standards-based evaluation system.
Excluding SWAT teams from the UASI-funded training drills
Other areas of discussion included data collected from volunteers, observers and some journalists who attend the exposition and training drill, which includes social security numbers, drivers license numbers and telephone numbers, as well as criminal background checks, and which is kept in a database for a year after collection.
The task force will also be discussing the Alameda County evaluation process after it was learned that the 2018 evaluation team from Louisiana State University included former Miami-Dade officer Manuel Malgor who participated in a notorious botched sting operation called the Redland Killings. During the Redland Killings, 4 men were shot at a marijuana buy while attempting to run away including the department’s own informant, who was shot 20 times. The Florida AG’s office called the case “disturbing” and officers were investigated for possible suppression of evidence. Miami-Dade paid out $1.3 million dollars in civil penalties.
Update: On January 2, the California Supreme Court rejected the San Bernardino police officers union request for a ruling on the effective date of SB 1421 and stay. By denying, SB 1421 goes into effect this morning and no further appeal is possible. See ruling below
When Governor Jerry Brown, somewhat to the surprise of many, signed Senate Bill 1421 in his last year as the governor of California, it was the dawn of a potential new era in transparency about the use of force, and sexual assault and evidence planting by California’s police officers.
But before the new bill even went into effect, a pitched legal battle began in the courts – and in city councils with shredders – throughout the state.
First off, on December 19, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association asked a court to determine if Senate Bill 1421 applied retroactively i.e. to incidents that had occurred prior to January 1, 2019 – and to pause the bill’s enactment until the court decided. You can read the complaint below. Read More
Then, on December 22, word hit the newspapers that the City of Inglewood had decided to shred investigative and disciplinary police records for use of force incidents that were older than five years. The City had formerly kept them for up to 25 years. The City Council changed the storage policy and authorized the shredding quietly at an unrecorded City Council meeting on December 11th. Inglewood insists the change was unrelated to the passage of Senate Bill 1421 and the possibility that some of the records might now be subject to public records requests. It is unclear if the shredding ordered by the City Council has occurred yet. The City of Long Beach did the same on December 18th, also claiming the decision was unrelated to the new law.
On December 28, a coalition of transparency and journalism organizations that included the LA Times, KQED-FM, the California Newspaper Publishers Assn and the First Amendment Center attempted to intervene in the San Bernardino lawsuit to preserve the law.
When I sit back and try to think about all the ways that modern consumer technology has entered our lives, I keep coming back to the idea of control.
Are you concerned you’re not getting enough exercise?
Count your steps with a smart watch.
Are you worried about burglars breaking in and stealing your stuff?
Think about installing a cloud-based camera in your living room.
Could your child be abducted on their way to school today?
Be responsible and equip them with a GPS tracker.
In a world that seems increasingly chaotic, we’re being offered more ways than ever to minimize risk. It’s a marketer’s dream come true: take an increasingly anxious population, gently guide them to internalize a few worst-case scenarios, and then turn around to sell them a sense of security.
And the folks selling control seem to be winning– though maybe that’s not so hard to do when you’ve convinced our consumerist culture that “New is always Better” and “Growth mean Progress.” We’ve been promised a technologically-tuned, utopian future, and that appeals to people for a good reason. A world of total control– without theft, abuse, terrorism, or kidnappings– is tempting.
We’ll get the ability monitor our children, bodies, and homes, as long as Big Tech gets to make billions off the data, and the police will get license-plate-readers, facial recognition, and drones so they can keep tabs on which of us are showing up to the local protests. Welcome to the Utopia of Control.
If this future doesn’t sound so bad to you, consider one possible analogy: have you ever seen a close friend get trapped in a controlling relationship? If you have, you’ve noticed that it starts when one partner can’t process their own insecurities. Their inability to cope will give way to deeper feelings of paranoia, which they’ll try to regain control over, usually by displacing them directly onto their partner. It might start with looking through the other’s phone, or combing through their social media accounts, but it can escalate into demanding unreasonable amounts of attention (especially at the expense of other relationships), or even dictating which people are ok to hang out with.
As one partner exerts more control over the other, trust vanishes, behaviors incrementally change, seeds of anxiety germinate, and true self-expression begins to mute itself. Ironically, the moment when one achieves full control over their relationship, the relationship as we know it disappears. And while it might still be wrapped up in the language of affection, its core resembles something more akin to an interpersonal dictatorship.
I believe this mechanism slowly replicates itself in our homes and neighborhoods. And as the modern world drags us into our devices, maybe we’re actually displacing our insecurity of feeling disconnected from our immediate community onto a virtual community (though the structure of our economic system bears responsibility, too). If we feel disconnected from our community, there’s a good chance it’s because we simply don’t know the people in it– a phenomenon that’s common in regions like the Bay Area, where neighborhood demographics are shifting overnight.
And when people in a community don’t know each other, how can they trust each other?
As surveillance activists, we see case after case of law enforcement and tech corporations taking advantage of this sense of ‘otherness’ to push through more invasive technologies, whether it’s always-on microphones in our most underserved neighborhoods, or attempts to equip cameras with facial recognition. The justification they offer is to provide us with more security. The fantasy is to maintain control.
Communities will always have conflict, and maybe they’ll always have crime. But community also gives us the space for spontaneity and self-exploration, celebration and solidarity. Feeling like you’re part of a community is a part of feeling human. What happens to that community once we install cameras on every doorstep, plant microphones on telephone poles, and normalize the constant buzz of drones overhead?
Our challenge today is to honestly ask: even if we could design a world of total control, is that the world we want?
Chris Jasinski is an active member of Oakland Privacy
At the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in October, presenters from the Orlando Police Department issued a stern warning for fellow local law enforcement officials eager to start a small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS or drones) program.
“We don’t want to use them when people are exercising freedom of speech,” Orlando Police Sgt. Jeffrey Blye told the audience during the best practices portion of his talk. “Because that will destroy your program quickly.”
That is excellent advice for police departments, but sheriffs in the San Francisco Bay Area have chosen not to follow it.