Surveillance technology needs oversight to keep communities safe.
As the Trump administration continues to exploit data breaches and private information to target people and communities of color, it is time for local governments to rise to the call and protect our personal information from abuse.
Last month, it was revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the law enforcement agency responsible for Trump’s mass deportations and border family separations — has been targeting immigrant communities using data from license plate readers owned by some of the country’s largest cities. ICE has also met with Amazon to use the company’s facial recognition software to target immigrants at the border. While Amazon issued a statement celebrating their support of ICE’s “vital” mission, they fail to acknowledge that the technology disproportionately mis-identifies women and people with darker complexions.
As the president and vice president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, upholding San Francisco’s Sanctuary City status is a critical part of our mission. As city infrastructure, personal devices and local government agencies become increasingly networked with each other, this also means creating a “digital sanctuary” that advances the privacy rights of Latinx, immigrant and other historically-marginalized communities.
In light of our country’s racist deportation policies, we must act now to safeguard our personal information. Just last week, Congresswomen Veronica Escobar and Norma J. Torres introduced a bill to safeguard DREAMers and prevent the Department of Homeland Security from using the personal information of DACA applicants for deportation purposes. Torres explains, “When we look at the Homeland Security Department’s actions throughout the Trump administration, it’s clear that Secretary Nielsen can’t be trusted to protect Dreamers’ personal information.”
Building community trust in government agencies is key to advancing the safety of all communities. Locally, the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance introduced by San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin would help build that trust by giving the public a voice in how surveillance technology is used by law enforcement. If ICE is accessing personal information through locally-owned technology in violation of our Sanctuary City policy, the public has a right to know, and policymakers must take steps to protect our basic civil rights.
That said, we recognize the potential for technology to make our communities safer. Used properly, security cameras can help identify and apprehend violent criminals. License plate readers can help locate victims of kidnapping. Information obtained through these technologies can also be used by public defenders to ensure suspects are not wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.
The Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance would not prevent any beneficial use of technology.
But it would ensure that surveillance technology is not being used to to unfairly target individuals and communities on the basis of their race, income, ethnicity or immigration status, to deprive them of basic government services, or to subject them to unwarranted harassment and — at times — violence.
Since 1989, San Francisco has been a proud Sanctuary City, “standing shoulder to shoulder with our immigrant communities.” San Francisco’s Latinx and immigrant communities are under attack by our federal government, but history shows that all San Franciscans will benefit from having a say in how their personal information is used..
Thirty years later, our city must renew its commitment to being a digital sanctuary for immigrants and for all San Franciscans.
Sarah Souza is President of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club and a DACA recipient. Kevin Ortiz is the Vice President of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club.