Seeing Through Surveillance: Why Policymakers Should Look Past the Hype

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Surveillance is not safety. In recent decades, surveillance has increased exponentially. It hasn't made us safer. As AI-powered surveillance looms larger and rights are under attack in many communities, the stakes are even higher for policymakers to have the necessary resources to make informed decisions about surveillance and focus on real public safety. This guide will help.

Seeing Through Surveillance: Why Policymakers Should Look Past the Hype builds on a decade of cutting-edge work by the Technology and Civil Liberties Program at the ACLU of Northern California to fight dangerous government surveillance in the technology age. 

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    Since we released our first surveillance report and its model surveillance legislation in 2014, dozens of communities in California and across the country have used it to enact important laws. These laws bring additional transparency and oversight to surveillance technology as well as prohibit systems such as face surveillance. But much more needs to happen.

    This guide gives policymakers and community members the resources they need to meet this moment. It brings together dozens of case studies and important information to illustrate how surveillance is so often at odds with racial justice, immigrants’ rights, reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, privacy, and free speech.

    On this webpage, you'll also find additional resources, including a Seeing Through Surveillance One Pager and Surveillance Technology Impact Report Worksheet, to help scrutinize surveillance ranging from cameras and license plate readers to drones and new artificial intelligence systems.

    These resources will help your community see through the hype and make good decisions to build real public safety.

    Additional Resources:

    Seeing Through Surveillance One Pager

    The One Pager includes a high-level summary about why and how to scrutinize surveillance technology, understand and discuss the real costs of surveillance, and carefully consider non-surveillance interventions that make your community healthier and safer.

    Screenshot of Seeing Through Surveillance One Pager

    Surveillance Technology Impact Worksheet

    The Surveillance Technology Impact Worksheet walks you through the questions to ask and answer about surveillance. It will help your community be in a better position to determine whether surveillance can address public needs, or actually creates more problems than it solves.

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    Policymaker Brief: Important Limits on Surveillance

    Surveillance should not be the first approach to public safety. There are alternative solutions that produce results without causing harm. But if after robust public debate and a full consideration of non-surveillance alternatives, your community continues to use surveillance systems, this Policymaker Brief outlines some minimally necessary and enforceable limits that should be in place to try to prevent harm and abuse.

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