Your Camera is A Snitch

Mask up, bloc up, make sure you’re covered. Yes, these tactics of obscuring your appearance are necessary when attending marches, counter-rallies, riots, and uprisings but they must not be the only measure that are taken to protect one’s anonymity.

Since September 11 the State has focused on developing their technological arsenal, not only with the assistance of corporations but with the public as well. While it might seem like social media and tech company giants are doing more to scale back on State intrusion, the reality is that in the end they share the same common enemy, the autonomous individual. For this reason, Tech as an institution should not be trusted, but instead exploited in the same way they have exploited us.

The increasing rise and crossover influence of biometrics should be alarming to all. The recent announcement from Jeff Sessions that Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) would be “rescinded” stoked fears into Dreamers, not only because of fear of deportation but for fear on how the State would use all of the biometric data that was collected from them.

For years the Department of Homeland Security has tested biometric surveillance and security on undocumented people. This has gone largely unscrutinized. As well as programs that are tested on those being incarcerated. The National Institute of Justice conducted biometric testing on people being confined at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina in hopes of developing stronger tracking methods of those who are imprisoned.  While there have been some critical reports written by these mostly white privacy advocacy groups, we have yet to see the same sort of call for action against surveillance as was done after the Snowden files leaked. It appears that privacy concern issues only seem to raise alarms when the victims of privacy invasion are white.

Biometrics is not only being developed by the State but by social media companies as well. Facebook who now owns Instagram has a plethora of access to the population’s images. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, if your friend is a social media photog your image is being supplied for further evaluation. So while you’re enjoying the filters of SnapChat or any other app that wants to scan your face, know that is data being collected and stored.

A paper was released by IEEE International Conference on Computer Vision Workshops (ICCVW) on how deep-learning algorithms (a process of machine understanding that is used to further connect patterns within large amounts of data with the interest to further developing Artificial Intelligence and tech industry manipulation) was able to, “correctly identify a person concealed by a scarf 67 percent of the time when they were photographed against a ‘complex’ background, which better resembles real-world conditions”. While it was expected and anticipated that the State would use AI in this way, there still remains a need to normalize security prevention tactics.

When it comes to protecting ones anonymity the narrative is focused solely on masking up. This puts all responsibility on just the individual. Yet, where is the critique of those who are not State operatives who are filming those without their consent at protests? Whether it’s a journalist or someone trying to stunt for Instagram, all cameras become surveillance materials and should not be welcomed nor allowed at actions. Media and non-media participants need to leave their cameras and phones at home. This should be applied to all actions including bullshit Liberal marches. There is a level of entitlement in thinking it’s okay to photograph or film people without their consent. In cases where this is at a protest or a riot, the ramifications of doing so can be life changing and severe.

In the Baltimore uprising Allen Bullock, then 15 years old, was photographed standing on a police car with a street cone by photographer Jim Watson. The photo which was shared by news outlets widely, ended up leading to Bullock’s mother turning him in out of fear. Bullock now is serving 12 years in jail do to the consequences of that photo being taken.

Black people have committed the boldest acts of property destruction and have done so often with little if anything to mask their identity. This lead to many people later being identified and arrested. While black people were rioting in response to the continuous violence against black communities, outside captivators from around the country were taking pictures, video, and live streams that furthered their careers and again, helped the State identify those participating.

Going to a protest or an action does not mean one is consenting to being filmed or having their picture taken. If this is more than just about “winning hearts and minds”, and more about actual radical change, then it will require escalated tactics. These tactics are not meant to be filmed or photographed. We can talk all we want about masking up and the importance of bloc, but not everyone is going to do it or know how it should properly be done. Sometimes rebellions just happen, often the best ones form in that way, people won’t always have a ski mask on them. So, while it is key to popularize covering up, there must also be a culture created against filming in tactical spaces.

Sure a live-streamer or photojournalist could say that they are making sure to never shoot people’s faces, but how accurate can/will they be all the time? And are you willing to trust your freedom that they will never film an incriminating shot? Do you trust that that person will not hand over their footage to the State when forced to if arrested? Do you have enough faith in that individual that they will not go and testify on the stand and say they witnessed you committing property damage while providing the State with evidence?

In reality, live streams are like police body cams but with more access and incriminating footage. And yes, you can mask up and dress in all black, but unless everyone’s in a uniformed disguise the State can still find ways to identify you, as we’ve seen happen already with some of the J20 court cases. As more of the discovery from individuals court cases are reported we will see how important security culture is and how seriously it needs to be taken. Live streams and other video footage that was confiscated and/or voluntarily given is being used by the DA’s office to prosecute those who were arrested.

The “movement” encourages the trust of strangers, it plays on the desire people have for connectivity. We are all “comrades in the struggle” and supposed to have this trust and hope in people that have done nothing to prove or earn it.

Critics will often scoff off mistrust as unguided paranoia. That too much suspicion and focus on infiltration can also do the work of the State or in fact make you an agent-of-the-state. This rhetoric is usually spouted by cis-men with pseudo-leadership. It has been my experience in life that it is best to side with caution, and it is better to be apprehensive than to wish you did after it’s too late.

Whether knowingly or unintentionally live-streamers, photo journalists, and the people out with their camera phones during an action are acting as snitches and as an extended arm of the Surveillance State.  Journalists who want to cover protests and uprisings should do so in a written format. This show of solidarity 1. Helps in protecting those participating in streets actions and 2. Prevents your camera from getting thrown to the ground.

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