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Free Expression, Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

CDT Joins 100+ Others in Urging Congress To Drop Federal Funding of Surveillance Tech to be Used Against Communities and Protestors

June 17, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McCarthy, Chairman Nadler and Ranking Member Jordan:

The undersigned civil rights and civil liberties groups urge you to take action to address the unconstitutional and dangerous use of surveillance by state, local and federal police officers against demonstrators protesting the murder of George Floyd and so many others perpetuated by systemic police brutality. Specifically, we urge you to cease federal funding for the surveillance technologies that are being used to militarize our communities and criminalize dissent.

Black-led movements fighting for racial justice in America have always been met with violence and surveillance by police, but there have been moments in our history where a spike in tensions have seen increasingly dangerous tactics. We saw this in the 1960s, when civil rights protesters were savagely beaten for challenging Jim Crow, and illegal programs like COINTELPRO were established to disrupt the pursuit for civil rights and justice. We are seeing it now in cities and towns across the country as curfews and calls for “law and order” by dog-whistle politicians encourage police to use aggressive tactics and “dominate protesters”.

The First Amendment rights of racial justice protesters are once again being chilled as physical interactions with officers intensify, and increasingly invasive and largely unregulated surveillance technologies are used to monitor, disrupt and map those that seek to protest abusive policing practices. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drones have been flown above protestors fighting against police brutality. The DOJ has wrongly temporarily expanded the authority of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and likely other federal police agencies, to respond to current protest activities, including allowing them to engage in “covert intelligence”. And, FBI agents are reportedly questioning individuals arrested at protests about their beliefs, raising First Amendment concerns. These interrogations appear connected to President Trump’s statements indicating that antifa has prompted violence at protests and is a terrorist group. To be clear, President Trump has no authority to make such a designation and there is no evidence to support his theories.

Read the rest of the letter, and the full list of signatories here.