New York City police officers monitor a demonstration outside an Apple store in February. (Julie Jacobson / AP)

An association of racial justice activists, including a founder of Black Lives Matter, published a letter claiming that the civil rights of minorities could be abused if the FBI gains the power to force a technology company such as Apple to undermine its users’ activities.

“One need only look to the days of J. Edgar Hoover and wiretapping of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to recognize the FBI has not always respected the right to privacy for groups it did not agree with,” the letter stated. The signatories included arts and music nonprofit Beats, Rhymes & Relief, The Center for Media Justice, The Gathering for Justice, Justice League NYC, activist and writer Shaun King, and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter co-founder and Black Alliance for Just Immigration executive director.

They argue that the FBI’s tactics haven’t changed since the Hoover era. “Many of us, as civil rights advocates, have become targets of government surveillance for no reason beyond our advocacy or provision of social services for the underrepresented.”

Jenna McLaughlin reported Tuesday at The Intercept:

In Washington and Silicon Valley, the debate over unbreakable encryption has an aura of elite, educated, mostly male whiteness — from the government representatives who condemn it to the experts who explain why it’s necessary.

But the main targets of law enforcement surveillance have historically been African American and Muslim communities.

Malkia Cyril, the co-founder of Center for Media Justice, one of the letter’s signatories, gave a speech at one of several nationwide protests outside Apple stores two weeks ago, supporting the tech giant and pointing out the FBI’s history of surveilling black activists. “In the context of white supremacy and police violence, Black people need encryption,” she wrote in a tweet. …

The letter to California federal magistrate judge Sheri Pym, who will hear arguments March 22 on the case, is the start of more to come.

“I think racial justice organizations have a clear stake in the fight for encryption,” the Center for Media Justice’s Cyril said. “It was really important to me that our voices were raised here…because they wouldn’t be [represented] by others.” …

“Basically what people need to understand is that to protect your first and fourth amendment rights in the digital age, we need to update the law to the digital age,” Cyril said. “Everything we do is online…encryption is necessary for a democracy.”

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—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.


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