Today, in Chicago, nearly 50 people–mostly journalists–gathered for The Media Consortium’s annual conference, which kicked off with a one day ‘mini-conference’ called “No Secrets: Journalism in the Age of Surveillance.” Jointly sponsored by The Media Consortium and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, the day-long event investigated “the steady deterioration of Americans’ privacy in recent years.” Geared towards thinkers and doers—the conference was a great mix of presentations plus hands-on sessions for journalists, lawyers, citizen journalists and the public.
The Media Consortium is a strong partner/ally to the Media Action Grassroots Network, covering our Campaigns, attending our community-based events, and ensuring the ethnic press (especially) covers the issues that impact communities of color. Given this, I was excited to join a morning panel called Citizen Journalism and Police Surveillance. With me, were some great folks, including Josh Stearns of Free Press, Tim McNulty of Northwestern University and Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The mini-conference came at a perfect time. As our session started, two important pieces of information were released publicly:
- Anzalone Liszt Grove Research released their polling results showing that “Americans overwhelmingly support proposals to limit corporate surveillance.”
- And for communities of color—73% said they were concerned about their privacy, but didn’t know how to protect it.
- A broad coalition of civil, human and media rights organizations (including CMJ) released Civil Rights Principles for the Era of Big Data, urging companies and the government to develop and use these new technologies in ways that will promote equal opportunity and equal justice.
I’m certain there are many ways to interpret these documents—but from a racial justice perspective its pretty clear that:
1) Communities of color have a heightened concern (and rightly so) based on a long history of surveillance being used by both governments and companies to stifle our social movements and political speech and create a chronic sense of fear in our communities. In short, we know there is a relationship between privacy/surveillance and social control—and we know that we are the targets.
2) The preexisting experiences of marginalized communities require that we proactively center race and class within our strategies—acknowledging the intentional and disproportionate impact these practices have had on our communities. This isn’t about figuring out ways to comply with existing laws that create persistent inequity—this is about building the practices, attitudes and actions that produce equitable power and opportunities for our communities.
3) Privacy and surveillance work runs the risk of being siloed in a media and telecommunications sector (because of its relationship to the Internet)–we cannot let this happen. The disastrous impacts of this state and industry sponsored apparatus is, among other things, an extension of neo-liberal policy. As social justice leaders and movement builders we need to ensure media/telcom policy and tech heads are working with us, and shaping their actions and recommendations based on our vision for our schools, neighborhoods, cities, public transportation, work-places–and other sites of place-making.
Through MAG-Net, we’ll be moving this (and other conversations) forward over the next year and we’re hoping that our movement allies and social justice partners join us. Now is the time to shape the conversation, and by extension the frames that influence the remedies–cultural, political and legal.