Dems Urge FCC to Tackle Surveillance Tech in Communities of Color

By Sameer Rao Dec 08, 2016

Nine Democratic U.S. Representatives representing constituencies across the country issued a letter yesterday (December 7) insisting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) address the disproportionate use of surveillance technology—particularly cell site simulators or "stingrays"—in communities of color.

"Given reports of systemic racial discrimination within law enforcement agencies, it is clear that there is a widespread problem of law enforcement behavior and decision-making [that] is disproportionately harming communities of color," read the letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. "This is exacerbated by the advancements in surveillance technology."

Of the nine represenatitves, seven—Georgia’s Hank Johnson, Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, Louisiana’s Cedric Richmond, Florida’s Alcee Hastings and California’s Barbara Lee, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Michael Honda—are people of color. Johnson and Richmond serve on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

The letter admonishes targeted use of surveillance technology to track people of color and protests generally, and highlights stingrays specifically. Stingrays emit signals that masquerade as mobile phone towers, prompting phones in a given area to join a fake network. Data that passes through them, including location and correspondence, can then be monitored by law enforcement. "Alarmingly, these devices are reportedly used with greater frequency against people exercising their First Amendment rights, specifically people of color," read the letter.

Several advocacy organizations filed an FCC complaint in August regarding the Baltimore Police Department‘s admitted stingray use. "Before an incoming administration bent on denying our most fundamental freedoms gains control of these tools for mass surveillance, we hope the FCC will hear the urging of Rep. Johnson and his House colleagues to end the warrantless use of stingrays," said Brandi Collins of Color of Change, one of the organizations behind the August complaint, in an emailed statement.

Read the full letter here.