IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Amid Rising Tech, Santa Cruz ACLU Panel Looks at Privacy

Attorney and former Santa Cruz County Supervisor Gary Patton addressed hypothetical privacy questions and more at an event hosted Monday night by the Santa Cruz chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

(TNS) — With the technologies that now exist, how could anyone reasonably expect that anything that they do is private?

Is there really a need for privacy for those who are doing nothing wrong?

Attorney and former Santa Cruz County Supervisor Gary Patton addressed these hypothetical questions and more to a panel speaker's event hosted Monday night by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Electronic Frontier Foundation senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia responded that those who say they "have nothing to hide" are likely living in a fairly privileged position where they are unaware of how corrosive a hyper-vigilant surveillance system in their neighborhood could be.

"You truly don't know, yet, what you need to hide," Guarigli said. "First of all, the average person commits crimes every day that they probably don't even know are a crime. They stop a little too short of a red light, litter, jaywalking. When you put any community under a microscope, those things become hyperenforced. It just happens to be that in our society, only some communities are under that microscope."

The webinar, "A Community Conversation on Surveillance and the Expectation of Privacy," kicked off to audience of several dozen Zoom viewers with an introduction to mass surveillance by law enforcement agencies, as described by East Bay-based Media Alliance's executive director, Tracy Rosenberg.

Rosenberg said that modern technology has blurred the line between what is considered public versus nonpublic spaces. The point of mass surveillance has traditionally been two-fold, she said: catching people in the act of what is considered a wrong and to "chill and discourage subversive behavior and encourage societal compliance."

"To put it in a sound bite, surveillance discourages ideas like 'the world is not flat, it's round,'" Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg suggested that the remedy for overreaching or improper use of public surveillance are "policy readers," community members willing to pore over government policy and hold elected leaders to them.

Guariglia echoed a similar sentiment, saying that with local legislation, communities have the option to halt use of such technologies as facial recognition and predicting policing software, as was the case with Santa Cruz in the summer of 2020. The Santa Cruz City Council voted in a law requiring its vote if approval and fact-finding that the technology is effective and would not promote bias before it could be used by police.

Calling such surveillance technology as those designed to alert police to active gunfire as "kind of snake oil for the fearful cities," Guariglia said such tools are often costly and infective.

"It's really hard for the average person in the United States to know all this technology that police are using, how they justify it, what they're spending on it," Guariglia said. "It's important because it's dangerous. A lot of this technology sends armed people expecting gunfire to situations that do not require that kind of force."

Technology such as gunshot detection, surveillance cameras and license plate readers do not often prevent crimes, Guariglia said.

"Policing and surveillance is the only tool that governments can offer when people ask for safety, Guariglia said. "They ask for safety and what they get is more policing and more surveillance."

Guariglia suggested alternatives including non-punitive responses such as strategies not focused on people of color, disadvantaged communities, misdemeanors and quality-of-life crimes; improved public lighting and more mixed-use zoning that keeps activity going in residential areas at night.

Panelist Nick Hidalgo, ACLU staff attorney for the Technology and Civil Liberties Program, said that both federal and state laws protecting a reasonable right to privacy already exist. The adaptation to ever-changing technological advances, however, requires constant recalibration, however, he said.

"As a society and its norms, practices and expectations adapt to the growing invasiveness of technology, I believe that courts will start to recognize that we do have a reasonable expectation to be free from surveillance in its new forms. But the courts are not all there, yet," Hidalgo said.

© 2024 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.