Mass surveillance puts immigrants and refugees at risk – Whittier Daily News

How different would the United States be without refugees and immigrants?

There may have never been a certain internet search engine that most of us use daily. Our city skylines might not reach as far into the clouds as they do today. Even the way we eat ice cream might not be quite as sweet if not for a Syrian immigrant who invented the ice cream cone. California has welcomed 108,000 refugees since 2002 (more than any other state). One million members of the AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian) community and 11 million immigrants in total call the Golden State home, contributing to our state’s vibrance, values, and success.

However, after four years of refugees being turned away and immigrants being antagonized, significant damage has been done to our country’s reputation as a welcoming, inclusive place. Biases have grown that will not easily go away – think of how many Muslim Americans still endure unjust associations with terrorism due to the Patriot Act and Muslim ban.

There are also lingering government-authorized initiatives that wreak havoc in the lives of refugees and immigrants. In fact, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was recently caught purchasing location data from OnStar to facilitate deportations, and the U.S. Military even used a Muslim prayer app to track American citizens.

Unfortunately, this problem crosses party lines and wasn’t solved by the 2020 election. Just recently, for example, President Joe Biden temporarily backed off a campaign promise to raise the annual cap on refugees admitted to the United States. Persisting anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies are why we must remain vigilant in keeping our country welcoming and safe for all. Our local officials can be an excellent line of defense, but, in Southern California, there’s a new program taking us in the wrong direction.

Los Angeles, typically a progressive and hospitable city for refugees and immigrants, has begun implementing a massive surveillance tool called Mobility Data Specification (MDS) that tracks the real-time movements of individual vehicles. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) began testing MDS on bikes and scooters in 2018. Recently, the LA Daily News revealed that MDS is being expanded to for-hire passenger services like taxis and ride-shares. Eventually, it will be used to track all connected vehicles and even charge Angelenos to access city streets.

This should set off alarm bells for all of us. The danger of “smart city” tools like MDS – particularly to vulnerable communities like refugees and undocumented immigrants – is the real-time, individual-level location data they collect. This type of information makes it easy to identify, track, and even intercept someone based on the trips they’ve taken. It’s especially worrisome that LADOT hasn’t instituted clear, enforceable policies to limit how MDS data is shared, meaning it could end up in anyone’s hands, including law enforcement. The company that owns the MDS platform has even raised the possibility of executing “instantaneous search warrants.”

Refugees, undocumented immigrants, and other vulnerable communities always seem to fall victim to the unintended consequences of surveillance tools like MDS. It’s time for this cycle to end, starting right here in Los Angeles. City officials must consider the potential for abuse if MDS data were to end up in the hands of local police or federal immigration authorities. Needless harassment and potentially dangerous encounters with law enforcement would almost certainly escalate.

Perhaps worse, MDS could shut out refugees, immigrants, and others who fear government surveillance from using new and connected forms of transportation. Who could blame them?

Read More:Mass surveillance puts immigrants and refugees at risk – Whittier Daily News

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