Rep. Johnson urges protections from excessive surveillance for low-income and minority communities


On Wednesday, Dec. 7, Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law which exercises jurisdiction over antitrust laws and competition, called on the Federal Communications Commission to take swift action to address the disproportionate use of surveillance technology against low-income and minority communities.

“Such targeted use is deeply troubling to all of those who value the principle that the law should be enforced fairly and indiscriminately,” wrote Johnson. “All Americans should be able to exercise their constitutional rights to assemble and to free speech. The color of one’s skin should in no way determine the treatment one receives from law enforcement. It is up to Congress to ensure that every community is protected in an equitable fashion.”

Specifically, Johnson’s letter addresses law enforcement agencies’ use of cell-site simulators — surveillance technology that operates over cellular networks that fall squarely within the FCC’s jurisdiction.

Recent reports have shown that police departments are reportedly using surveillance technology with greater frequency against people exercising their First Amendment rights, specifically people of color. Disturbingly, increased surveillance technology has been reported at protests against police brutality and racial injustice. In addition, the FBI has disclosed before Congress that it flew surveillance aircraft over Ferguson and Baltimore during the protests following the police killings of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.

“Today’s letter to the FCC, led by Rep. Hank Johnson, is the type of political leadership we need — now more than ever — to ensure the agency quickly acts on Color Of Change’s complaint about the frequent use of Stingray devices in communities of color,” said Color Of Change Campaign Director, Brandi Collins. Color of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization with more than 1.2 million members nationwide.

“This invasive technology is being used to by police in Baltimore and elsewhere to target, arrest and over prosecute Black and brown people on low-level, non-violent offenses,” Collins said. “Before an incoming administration bent on denying our most fundamental freedoms gains control of these tools for mass surveillance, we hope the FCC will hear the urging of Rep. Johnson and his House colleagues to end the warrantless use of Stingrays.”

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