In We See It All (PublicAffairs, Oct.), journalist Fasman explores how surveillance technologies imperil civil liberties.
What drew you to the topic of state surveillance?
I’ve always been interested in civil liberties and I’ve covered the police a lot as a journalist. I was working in Singapore in 2014, and from there I saw the Ferguson protests unfold and followed the conversation about policing. When I came back to the states I was struck by how technology played a more central role in this conversation than it had before. I felt that some of the predictive policing programs I write about raised due process concerns. Facial recognition poses a huge threat to people’s right to be anonymous in public, and I found the lack of regulation around these things really worrying.
How do you respond to people who say, “I don’t have anything to hide, why should I care?”
Maybe you’re not a criminal, but let’s say you go to a protest and get into an argument with a police officer. Or maybe there’s someone in city or state government who has a grudge against you. Your town has facial recognition enabled cameras; it has automatic license plate readers. Police officers or people in government can troll through your life and see everything you’ve done. There are all sorts of reasons people should not want all of their information, going back an indefinite period of time, to be in the hands of the state.
What was the most disturbing thing you learned in researching the book?
I suppose the most disturbing thing is just how little regulation there is around any of this. In no other facet of government would we allow an entire sector to regulate itself, yet that’s what we’ve done with the police. I want to be clear: that worries me not because the police are bad people. I have a tremendous amount of respect for police. But just like any other agency of the state, they need to have clearly spelled out regulations, and those regulations should be created in consultation with the public and put forward by legislators who answer to the public.
What can people concerned about this issue do?
They can go to their city or county council meetings and say, “Look, I have some concerns.” Ask what sort of technology is being used, how it’s being used, and what guidelines and penalties are in place for use and misuse. And if they’re not satisfied with the answer, they should get in touch with their legislator and propose solutions. The Oakland Privacy Council is a great example. Democracy doesn’t just mean showing up and voting once every two or four years, it means taking responsibility for how you’re being governed. That privilege still exists for us.