Pictures, metadata, call logs… In the age of surveillance, law enforcement can use information gathered from your phone, social media, street cameras, facial recognition, and your location from wifi towers against you. In the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others killed by police brutality, it might be tempting to post footage from a #BlackLivesMatter protest on social media. We encourage you to think twice before you post anything that could incriminate yourself or others.
The legality of police using this technology against American citizens is debatable, but cops have done it before (protestors in Ferguson have died as a result of being recognized) and we wouldn’t put it past them in the case of Black Lives Matter protests. Here are some basic principles for cyber-safety while protesting police brutality and calling for justice for George Floyd.
Police Can Use Your Cellphone Data in a Court of Law
Your cell phone is the easiest piece of evidence that can be used against you in the court of law. Text conversations, your location that’s picked up from wifi towers, social media and location stamps, etc. are solid pieces of evidence that won’t work for your favor in court — or post-protest if law enforcers are using facial recognition and your location pings to track you down. Of course, you’ll need your phone for safety purposes/to film instances of police brutality, so we recommend keeping it on airplane mode or off as much as you can, and to make phone calls only during emergencies.
Use Social Media Cautiously
Snapchat, instagram, twitter, facebook, etc. are powerful tools for spreading awareness, to cultivate a sense of community and organize support surrounding an issue. However, it can also be used against you, because it compromises your anonymity as well as others’. Be cautious when filming videos, taking pictures and posting on social media, and be sure to either blur out faces or ask for permission before you take photo/video footage of others. It’s not only important to protect yourself, your loved ones + your fellow protesters, but posting on your social media account could be used to tip off law enforcers which in turn could compromise protests and events before they even happen. Spread the message, support each other, but be cautious + aware of your surroundings and the content that you choose to post.
Protect Your Anonymity
Avoid brightly colored clothing, logos, or other statement items that would make you an easy identifiable target. Opt for neutral colors, logo-less clothing, sunglasses and hats. With covid-19 still at large, face masks are required in most public places still (depending on your city) — which have coincidently been a silver lining as they serve you even further in protecting yourself from being identified.
Know Your Rights
Emotions are running at an all time high, leading up to the event and during. Unfortunately this is easy to rush your plans without the proper preparations, which could result in unknowingly stepping into harms way or getting into legal trouble. The law varies depending on the city, so where ever you are protesting, make sure you read up on your rights based on what city you are protesting in. Educate yourself about government-issued laws in your city and what acts are in violation of those laws.
The Emergency Curfew Law and Participation in Protests Under Temporary Orders
The emergency curfew law is a temporary order that is put in place by federal, state, or local government in response to a particular crisis, such as protests, riots and acts of terrorism. A government-issued emergency curfew law differs depending on the state you’re in, and it’s important to educate yourself on the law that pertains to your state/city you are protesting in.
Be aware of what exactly is prohibited during these temporary federal/government-issued mandates, and what behavior is in violation of the law. Jennifer and I are based in Seattle so we’ll use our city as an example. Given the recent riots that broke out last weekend, we are currently under an emergency curfew law that prohibits any protesting activity from 5:00 to 6:00am, both effective in the city of Seattle and Bellevue. The Revised Code of Washington states that violating the emergency curfew law (which means violating curfew and/or committing acts that are unlawful during curfew) RCW 43.06.220) results in consequences that range from a gross misdemeanor all the way to a being charged with a class B felony which results in 2-10 years in prison and a $100,000 penalty (RCW 43.06.230).
We want our voices to be heard, and we want to be able to come together, to be listened to and to create space for conversations and opportunities to learn from each other and from our experiences. We want as many of us involved as we possibly can and knowing your rights educating ourselves about the law will ensure safety and retain the freedom to go back out the next day.
Be peaceful, be safe, prepare yourselves, use the buddy system, protect the anonymity of yourself and your fellow protestors, be kind, do your search and know your rights.