The thing that people like Snowden are worried about with respect to mass surveillance has already happened. It’s being carried out by police departments, though, not the NSA, and its targets are black men, not the general population.
Take a look at this incredible Guardian article written by Rose Hackman. Her title is, Is the online surveillance of black teenagers the new stop-and-frisk? but honestly that’s a pretty tame comparison if you think about the kinds of permanent electronic information that the police are collecting about black boys in Harlem as young as 10 years old.
Some facts about the program:
- 28,000 residents are being surveilled
- 300 “crews,” a designation that rises to “gangs” when there are arrests,
- Officers trawl Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media for incriminating posts
- They pose as young women to gain access to “private” accounts
- Parents are not notified
- People never get off these surveillance lists
- In practice, half of court cases actually use social media data to put people away
- NYPD cameras are located all over Harlem as well
We need to limit the kind of information police can collect, and put limits on how discriminatory their collection practices are. As the article points out, white fraternity brothers two blocks away at Columbia University are not on the lists, even though there was a big drug bust in 2010.
For anyone who wonders what a truly scary police surveillance state looks like, they need look no further than what’s already happening for certain Harlem residents.