Tech

ACLU Sues Government Agencies For Supposedly Using Big Tech To Snoop On Black People

REUTERS/David Becker

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Chris White Tech Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union in California filed a lawsuit Thursday targeting seven government agencies that the group claims are investing in the kinds of technologies supposedly violating people’s privacy.

The ACLU’s lawsuit specifically names the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security. Social media surveillance technologies put millions of people at risk, according to the lawsuit.

Technologies allowing agencies to pinpoint cell phones risk “chilling expressive activity and can lead to the disproportionate targeting of racial and religious minority communities, and those who dissent against government policies,” the ACLU noted.

Recent reports have shown the extent to which wireless cell companies can distribute the geolocations of the many of their customers to outside vendors, oftentimes without permission. (RELATED: Report: Facebook Gave AI Control Of A Crucial Personal Data Collection Tool)

Motherboard published a report on Jan. 8 fleshing out a marketplace in the resale of location data tracking cell phones, which led major U.S. wireless carriers to announce they would stop selling the repositories of data. Car dealers, bounty hunters and law officials were often given the kind of data allowing people to be located within a few blocks of their position.

Tech companies have been under pressure for months to be more transparent about their technologies, especially as it pertains to consumers personal data.

A man reads a message on data bundles from mobile telecoms operator Econet Wireless on his mobile phone in Harare, Zimbabwe, Jan. 13, 2017. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)

Facebook, for instance, has used facial recognition intelligence for years to recognize users. Engineers with the Silicon Valley company are also rolling out video artificial intelligence (AI) products like Portal, which allows a camera to follow users around rooms and automatically focus on their faces.

Recent media reports have also laid out the degree to which Facebook is able to cobble together and distribute users personal data. One report from The New York Times in December showed the company began forming data partnerships with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The dual partnerships allowed Facebook to adhere itself to multiple social media platforms while insulating itself from competition. The partnership program became too unwieldy by 2013 for mid-level employees to govern, so the company resorted to relinquishing the reins to artificial intelligence.

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