This is why the work of Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and other efforts to enact what Simone Browne calls “sousveillance … an active inversion of power relations that surveillance entails” are an essential part of any abolitionist toolkit.62 In their workshop on these different approaches, organizers were clear to distinguish their efforts from carceral reforms such as police body cameras, which one presenter called “an empty reform to extend the stalker state.”63 Like Jay-Z’s Promise app, these technical fixes give the illusion of progress but reinforce the power of state actors over racialized groups.
The European Union recently instituted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a law that covers many different facets of data protection and privacy. Among the provisions is the right to object to the processing of one’s personal data at any time, the right not to be subject to automated decisions, and the right to data portability, in which the “data subject shall have the right to receive the personal
data concerning him or her.”64 Even Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, supports data portability: “I do believe that individuals should own their data and should have the right to have the controls over how a company might utilize that and how a service might utilize that and be able to pull it immediately.”65
But individual-level rights such as those implemented by the European Union and espoused by tech entrepreneurs do not by themselves address the New Jim Code. In fact, a major exception built into Europe’s law is that these rights do not apply if personal data are processed by “competent authorities for the purposes of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, including the safeguarding against and the prevention of threats to public security.”66 This provision offers wide latitude for government officials to revoke data rights in an instant. It reminds us how coded inequity builds, and even deepens, existing inequities of race, class, nationality, and more. What looks like an expansion of data rights for individuals rests on the ability of governments to revoke those rights from anyone deemed a public threat.