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Activism

June 02, 2020 - Wired Magazine

How to Protest Safely in the Age of Surveillance

How to Protest Safely in the Age of Surveillance
Protesters, Arizona USAFile Photo / © Photabulous!

Law enforcement has more tools than ever to track your movements and access your communications. Here's how to protect your privacy if you plan to protest.

For the past several nights, militarized police in cities across the United States have deployed armored vehicles and rubber bullets against protesters and bystanders alike. If you're going out to protest—as is your right under the First Amendment—and bringing your smartphone with you, there are some basic steps you should take to safeguard your privacy. The surveillance tools that state and federal law enforcement groups have used at protests for years put it at risk right along with your physical wellbeing.

There are two main aspects of digital surveillance to be concerned about while at a protest. One is the data that police could potentially obtain from your phone if you are detained, arrested, or they confiscate your device. The other is law enforcement surveillance, which can include wireless interception of text messages and more, and tracking tools like license plate scanners and facial recognition. You should be mindful of both.

After all, police across the country have already demonstrated their willingness to arrest and attack entirely peaceful protesters as well as journalists observing the demonstrations. In that light, you should assume that any digital evidence that you were at or near a protest could be used against you. “It's clear the government is bringing the full force of the surveillance state to monitor these uprisings,” wrote Evan Greer, the deputy director of the activist organization Fight for the Future, in a Twitter thread laying out digital security advice. “Remember that taking these steps isn't just about protecting yourself, it's about protecting others who may be more at risk than you because they are undocumented, have a criminal record, [or] have an underlying health condition that would make an arrest life threatening.”

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