Privacy and Surveillance
Technological innovation has outpaced our privacy protections. As a result, modern technology enables persistent monitoring of each of us by government and corporations in ways that were once unthinkable. In a free society, the people must be able to control who has access to what kinds of information about them, and under what circumstances. Our Technology for Liberty Project fights to ensure that civil liberties are protected as technology advances.
In 2018, the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Technology for Liberty Project published three reports about government surveillance. Inside Orders: Secrecy and Warrantless Surveillance in Massachusetts details Massachusetts prosecutors’ use of administrative subpoenas to obtain sensitive personal information about people, even when they are not suspected of any crimes. Social Media Monitoring in Boston: Free Speech in the Crosshairs reveals the Boston Police Department used social media spying technology to track First Amendment protected speech and association online. Lastly, a report co-published with the Century Foundation, Beyond Sanctuary: Local Strategies for Defending Civil Liberties, looks at ways in which state and local government can fight back against the federal government’s war on immigrants.
We also educate people about privacy rights and new threats to civil liberties on our Privacy Matters blog, and provide Know Your Rights materials and trainings for community members across the state.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies unlock our potential to be more efficient, insightful, and effective. But left unregulated, these technologies can pose a serious threat to our privacy, facilitate discrimination, and exacerbate existing inequalities and injustices. The ACLU of Massachusetts is working with technology leaders to educate the public and lawmakers about the promise and perils of artificial intelligence, and to craft and implement appropriate laws, regulations, and policies to ensure our rights keep pace with new technologies.
Fourth Amendment Issues
We work to ensure a future in which the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches extends to digital property. In 2014, we won a groundbreaking victory for privacy when the state’s highest court ruled that Massachusetts state and local police must get a warrant to track our historical cell phone data. In 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the same way in a similar ACLU case. More recently, we sued the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without warrants at the U.S. border.
At the local level, we are organizing in cities across the state in favor of Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) ordinances, which aim to protect privacy, civil liberties, and the democratic process by requiring police departments to get community buy-in and local approval before using surveillance technologies. The ordinance sets up a democratic, transparent process so the public has a role in determining what types of technologies are used, and how.