Drug Policy and Digital Rights: June 30th and July 1st Calls for Action

A facial recognition overlay is seen on a black man's face. Facial recognition technology has been shown to confuse non-white faces, leading to arrests of innocent people due to racism in the creation of facial recognition tech.
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This entry has been published on June 30, 2020 and may be out of date.

By Erica Darragh ’14, SSDP Board Member and Sunrise Movement distributed organizer

It is undeniable that we are living in a historic moment, comparable to the cultural awakening of the 1960s that fueled the Civil Rights, anti-war, and counterculture movements. The United States is being confronted with its racism during the most important election of our lifetimes, and ideas that had previously seemed impossible are now mainstream political conversation. In the face of an ongoing public health emergency that leaves frontline workers underprotected and overworked, the Movement for Black Lives’ call to defund police, dismantle mass incarceration, and invest in communities has resonated around the world. 

This awakening has been met with an authoritarian crackdown from the US administration. Executive Orders have been issued to censor social media and open federal investigations into those who vandalize Confederate Monuments. The Department of Justice temporarily expanded the scope of the DEA to include investigating crimes committed by folks participating in the uprising, and on June 26 the DOJ announced the establishment of a “Task Force on Violent Anti-Government Extremists.” The memo specifically references “Antifa,” a nebulous left-wing political movement against fascism (which Trump already tried to designate as a terrorist organization), and “Boogaloo,” a term used by the militant far-right to refer to a second Civil War

Despite the administration’s hostility, the racial justice uprising has already resulted in historic legislation. On the state level, Colorado became the first state to end qualified immunity, and Georgia passed its Hate Crimes bill. On the federal level, Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill that would essentially ban facial recognition for federal agencies and pressure federal grantees to comply with the regulation as well. Earlier this year, Students for Sensible Drug Policy partnered with digital rights advocacy nonprofit Fight for the Future on a campaign to ban facial recognition on campus. The campus campaign was an incredible success and undoubtedly helped frame the narrative from a racial justice perspective. 

Simultaneously, Senate Republicans have introduced two anti-encryption bills, EARN IT and Lawful Access to Encrypted Data. Both of these bills threaten to end encryption, which would destabilize the entire digital world, lead to unavoidable surveillance, and introduce vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure like electrical grids and water systems. There is no middle ground on encryption, and encryption will always exist – what is being legislated is whether regular people have access to secure communication. The EARN IT Act would let the government silence dissent too, by messing with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to give the Executive Branch the power to dictate what types of content websites are allowed to host.

Recognizing the reality of these threats, here are some ways you can take a stand for algorithmic and racial justice: