Protecting Privacy

Kade Crockford is the director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The ACLU of Massachusetts launched its Press Pause on Face Surveillance campaign back in 2019, and it’s still going strong. What were some of the campaign highlights in 2021?

Last year, Worcester became the eighth city in the Commonwealth to pass a municipal face surveillance ban. Thanks to our campaign, over 1.5 million people are protected from this dangerous technology in Massachusetts. We’ve also been serving on the Massachusetts Legislature’s commission to study government use of facial recognition technology. Once that commission issues recommendations, the ACLU will pivot to working closely with lawmakers to strengthen the hard-won regulations established in the 2020 omnibus police reform legislation. Those regulations went into effect in July 2021, but there’s still more to do before the law adequately protects civil rights and civil liberties statewide.

What are some of the most exciting recent developments in the fight to regulate face surveillance nationally, or even internationally?

One of the most exciting things our work has accomplished is that we’ve helped to fundamentally change the terms of the debate. We have shown ourselves and the world that we don’t have to accept a society where tech policy is shaped behind the scenes by unelected officials, or by self-interested technology companies. We the people can and must shape our future relationship to technology, and bend it towards civil rights, civil liberties, accountability, and justice.

What’s next for the campaign in Massachusetts? What’s coming up in 2022?

The ACLU will continue to work closely with state lawmakers to ensure we strengthen existing face surveillance regulations. Our primary goal for 2022 is to pass a stronger state law to ensure all people in Massachusetts are protected from dragnet surveillance and warrantless face recognition searches. We will be calling on our supporters to get involved. We will need your help to get these crucial protections over the finish line!

What other work has the Technology for Liberty Program done in Massachusetts over the past year? What are you most proud of?

After four years of ACLU advocacy and organizing with partners, Boston passed a comprehensive surveillance oversight ordinance in fall 2021. The ordinance mandates public disclosure of all Boston police surveillance technologies and requires that the police get City Council approval for all surveillance technologies currently in use, and for future acquisitions. The ACLU launched a nationwide effort in 2016 to pass such laws to ensure people—not police—are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used. And in 2021, we are proud that Boston marked the 22nd surveillance oversight law passed nationwide.

What do you say when someone tells you that “privacy is dead”?

Privacy isn’t secrecy; it’s control. Everyone cares about their privacy, no matter what they might tell you. That’s why they have passwords protecting their online accounts, curtains on their windows, locks on their doors, and clothes on their bodies. Privacy is a prerequisite for human dignity, agency, and functional democracy. It’s not dead—but it is in trouble, and that’s why the ACLU’s Technology for Liberty work is so important.