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Racial justice advocates want the Federal Trade Commission to adopt new rules holding private corporations accountable for tech abuses involving electronic monitoring, commercial data and surveillance practices. Digital policing and electronic monitoring remain largely unregulated.

MediaJustice, Mijente, Just Futures Law, the Center on Race and Digital Justice and the Surveillance, Tech, and Immigration Policing Project at the Immigrant Defense Project provided the agency with concrete proposals regarding the sharing, storing and collection of personal information by private companies.

While regulatory campaigns might not have the same allure as other efforts, they have wide-ranging implications across multiple sites and platforms. According to the groups, some data practices lead to “serious civil rights violations.” Tech abuses by private corporations can also involve legal implications for impacted communities.

“This Federal Trade Commission rulemaking process could be hugely consequential in finally reining in the tech abuses by police departments, private corporations, and federal government agencies,” said Rumsha Sajid, national field organizer on policing and surveillance at MediaJustice. “In the past two decades, without comprehensive government action to protect the public, the now massive industry profiting from the extraction of our personal information is operating largely with impunity. It’s high time to create rules that assert our rights and power in an environment where they are bought and sold, largely without our informed knowledge or consent, compounding the exploitation of Black and brown communities.”

A network of more than 70 organizations, MediaJustice has been at the forefront of representing marginalized communities against electronic surveillance. Automated license plate readers, computer software to track young and even Amazon Ring are used by law enforcement in ways that harm Black and other people of color.

According to the Center on Race and Digital Justice, algorithmic justice addresses how “commercial surveillance and algorithmic decision-making” affect the lives of the Black and other people of color.

“Algorithms can determine if we get approved to rent an apartment or get access to a loan. Commercial surveillance impacts if we feel safe protesting or if our loved ones are detained by ICE or targeted by police,” said Akina Younge, Director of Movement Collaborations at the Center on Race and Digital Justice. “Algorithms and surveillance reflect the system of racial capitalism our country is built on. Through deception and discrimination, they are used to reinforce false categories of those who deserve money, freedom, and self-determination and those who should be watched, criminalized, and controlled. The FTC must repair past harms and prevent future harms from algorithmic decision making and surveillance.” 

Recommendations made to the Federal Trade Commission include prohibiting operations of data brokers, data analytics and other predatory companies; creating accountability, oversight, transparency and reporting requirements for private technology and data companies and other commercial entities. The groups also requested that the Federal Trade Commission prevent the private dragnet surveillance systems and prohibit data analytics company consolidation and monopoly power in policing data markets.

MediaJustice Fellow James Kilgore said that the Federal Trade Commission should address racialized punitive technologies like electronic monitoring.

“While an outright ban on ankle shackles would be the best possible option, the FTC must act to reduce the harms done by these devices in the absence of the political will to abolish electronic monitoring altogether,” Kilgore said. “This means imposing strict regulations for EM companies and their government contractors. Such regulations should limit the capacity of monitors to capture or share data, eliminate user fees, and make contracts and conditions of EM easily accessible to the public. The time to monitor the monitors on the pathway to their elimination is now.”


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