NewsAmerica in Crisis


Nonprofit offers tips to demonstrators on protecting themselves from protest surveillance

Posted at 2:52 PM, Jun 09, 2020

Members of Congress are pushing federal agencies, including the FBI, to stop collecting information on protesters.

According to The Washington Post, legislators cited several recent reports about surveillance using manned and unmanned aircraft and cell phone tracking.

Photos and videos at protests are being collected by all sorts of agencies and protesters. Some have been used to identify and arrest suspects in violent acts, including looting, arson and the death of a former St. Louis police captain.

One organization is warning participants about the information they may be sharing with police.

“All too often, the information we're using to highlight these demonstrations, the photos, the videos, that becomes just another weapon for police to use against those demonstrators,” said Albert Fox Cahn with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

The nonprofit recently put out a guide about how to protect yourself from protest surveillance, suggesting people not wear descriptive clothing and cover visible tattoos, things that are easily identifiable on video.

Also, they recommend using a disposable prepaid phone or turn off location services on your phone by switching to airplane mode. And they say to use strong phone passwords and turning off facial and thumbprint recognition to make it harder to get into a phone.

The group is suing New York City police to find out what they're doing with information they collect from people's cell phones.

They've also introduced the first ever geofence ban in the country in New York. That's when police use a warrant to get names and IDs of all the people in a specific area.

“It gives you an incredibly powerful way to chill First Amendment activity to track people simply because they are out in public supporting police reform,” said Cahn.

Google reports getting thousands of geofence warrants every year.

Meanwhile, some changes to body camera policies are happening now amid calls for police reform, but the group warns even they can be biased.

“So, the police departments that are supposed to be watched by these body cameras are the ones who are holding the recordings, are the ones who get to decide when they are released,” said Cahn. “They get to decide what is public interest and that gives them huge power to shift the narrative.”

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project recommends an independent agency be in charge of monitoring police body-cam footage.