WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, more than 100 racial-justice and civil-liberties groups urged House leaders to defund police surveillance technology that is used to spy on communities of color, protesters and others currently demanding an end to systemic racism and police brutality.
In a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jim Jordan, the groups set forth a list of demands, including ending state and local grants to law-enforcement agencies that can be used to purchase surveillance technologies and contribute to the militarization of police forces.
The groups also demand that Congress prohibit federal funding of unwarranted mass-surveillance programs, including those conducted under controversial Patriot Act authorities, and close existing legal loopholes that could be exploited to target activists and communities of color.
“Congress’s failure to effectively address systemic police abuse and update privacy laws to protect people from unjust surveillance has allowed us to get to this dangerous point,” reads the letter, which was signed by Free Press Action, MediaJustice, the ACLU, Color Of Change, the Movement for Black Lives and the National Lawyers Guild, among other groups. “Congress has failed to take sufficient action to prevent increased surveillance of communities of color and those fighting for equal rights.“
Many lawmakers in Congress have raised concerns about increased surveillance of protesters, which has included the use of facial-recognition software and aerial surveillance. Last week, House and Senate Democrats introduced the Justice in Policing Act to reform law enforcement and limit the use of facial-recognition software to scan police body-camera footage. But this bill largely ignores law-enforcement surveillance practices. Today’s letter sets forth additional steps lawmakers must take to curtail police spying.
Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton made the following statement:
“Millions of people in the streets are demanding dramatic changes to law enforcement, including defunding the surveillance infrastructure and technology that have contributed to the escalation of police brutality. Use of these tools to monitor protesters is having a chilling effect against those exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and express their views.
“Police are meeting these calls for justice with violence and dangerous surveillance. We saw this in the 1960s, when civil-rights protesters were savagely attacked and programs like the FBI’s COINTELPRO were established to disrupt their movements. We’re seeing it now from town to town as dog-whistle politicians encourage police to use aggressive tactics and technology to ‘dominate’ protesters. The Trump administration has even created a bogus ‘Black Identity Extremist’ category to try to justify its ruthlessness and spying.
“It’s time for Congress to respond with bold plans to defund surveillance and protect the First- and Fourth-Amendment rights of Black people and their allies in the United States.”