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Big Brother Has Been Watching for a Long Time

The Privacy Illusion

It's been over 10 years since Edward Snowden revealed the vast surveillance state under which we all live. His whistle-blowing actions sparked, at the time, a fierce, and still ongoing, debate about the place, purpose, and limits of privacy in our society. Throughout this national reckoning, it's been clear the American people overwhelmingly support both the notions of privacy, and the responsibility of government to respect and proactively ensure that privacy. Just how overwhelming? Recent polling from Morning Consult found 83% of voters want Congress to pass national data privacy legislation, with a nearly equal number placing responsibility for ensuring data privacy on both federal and state lawmakers and regulators. 72% of voters believe Congress is very responsible or somewhat responsible for regulating how companies use their information, and nearly nine in 10 adults (89%) say that it's important to protect their most sensitive pieces of information like Social Security numbers, banking information, biometric data, and driver's licenses. Yet despite both the avalanche of support for proactive data privacy, and the recent US Federal Court decision in United States vs. Moalin, which found that mass surveillance programs like the one exposed by Snowden were illegal, and possibly unconstitutional, both governments and corporations have continued full steam ahead with the collection and utilization of our private data. In fact, the last few years have seen an uptick in the collection of biometric data by these entities. A recent report has found that the federal government is requiring the collection of biometric data from DACA recipients and incoming immigrants, whose data are then shared with private corporations with few privacy protections. Adding to the Kafkaesque situation, many DACA members report having no ability to access their own data! It’s a blatant and disgusting use of the surveillance state apparatus to police the most vulnerable among us, creating a Sword of Damocles hanging above even those who successfully run the gauntlet and become permanent residents or US citizens. The exploitative use of biometric data and digital likenesses, however, extends far beyond our border regions or even standard police surveillance practices. For example, one of the major sticking points in the negotiations between writers’ and actors’ unions, and the production studios, is the continued use, in-perpetuity, of an individual’s digital likeness by these corporate behemoths. This could allow studio executives to reuse and recontextualize recordings of small acting parts or extras without paying the original actor a dime. Such a move could eviscerate the industry, rendering the use of many actors obsolete by simply recreating their likenesses with technology instead of hiring flesh and blood performers who need to eat. We stand with the writers and actors as they strike for dignity and control of their lives and livelihoods! So, we can see that fundamentally these questions of data privacy and use, are not just about civil liberties but about labor (and medical) struggles as well. The fight for data privacy and protection is an intersection point, where pro-immigration, pro-labor, and pro-healthcare (among many seemingly disparate issues) come together. As long as corporations can continue to make endless sums of money by using our data for free without any protection from the government, the reality is that privacy (and consequently freedom) will be nothing more than a dream. We need economic and political power to force government regulators and politicians to put 21st century privacy protections in place and make sure that as new technologies develop, they are not used to continually identify, track, and exploit human beings. So, join us each Tuesday in growing solidarity, as we join together for the universal right to privacy and one's own data and likeness. #DSOT #UPM

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