Surveillance is our new reality: Learn how to watch the watchers with this toolkit

Wednesday, February 10, 2021
the coveillance collective + the ACLU of Washington’s Technology & Liberty team
Feb 10, 2021

In 2021, surveillance is everywhere. Facial recognition threatens to erode the anonymity of public space, law enforcement agencies deploy increasingly high-powered technologies against protesters, and social media platforms capture and analyze our social lives. Lately, the policing of Black Lives Matter protests, as well as attempts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, have ramped up government use of "smart" technologies to track people. More than ever, understanding who is watching you and how is critical for engaging in public life. But exhortations to "protect your privacy" can be overwhelming and vague. It's easy to feel powerless.

Public education about surveillance technology is vitally important to inform the public so people can make their voices heard as technology evolves. This is particularly important for members of marginalized communities who may be disproportionately impacted by surveillance. Yet there are few resources available. 

To address this need, we are announcing a new toolkit to help build community capacity to engage with surveillance technology in our daily lives. Our toolkit focuses on illuminating surveillance technologies in Seattle in the context of historical inequity in the United States. By doing so, this toolkit aims to help build community capacity to engage with the Seattle Surveillance Ordinance, a first-of-its-kind law requiring any surveillance technologies used by city agencies to be formally reported by the city and reviewed by community members. As cities across the U.S. face their own surveillance challenges, we hope this toolkit can be used by local community groups to shape community engagement.

Our toolkit provides potential facilitators with several engaging approaches to what can be an intimidating topic. Using our toolkit as a guide, facilitators can offer the following workshops:
  • What’s new and what’s not new? Understanding the rise of tech-fueled surveillance.
  • What’s been tracking you in public space? A walking tour of surveillance infrastructure in Seattle.
  • Where does your personal information go? Mapping flows of information in the surveillance society.
  • How does pervasive surveillance affect your body? Let’s do some countersurveillance yoga.

We have developed this toolkit in collaboration with the ACLU of Washington and have held pilot workshops for each of the modules in collaboration with ACLU-WA’s Tech Equity Coalition. We offer these materials to serve individuals or organizations looking to build community capacity to engage with surveillance technologies. We welcome your remixes and reuse. As our next step, we’re looking to support more organizations and communities to host these workshops. If you would like to bring a workshop to your organization, please reach out to us at [email protected].

Check out the toolkit here: 

About Us

coveillance is a collective of technologists, organizers, and designers who employ arts-based approaches to build communal counterpower against new forms of technology-driven oppression. A nonprofit organization founded in 2020, we have facilitated workshops in Seattle, Barcelona and Pittsburgh.

The Technology and Liberty team at the ACLU of Washington works to create community-centric technology policy. We lead cutting-edge advocacy, organizing, and litigation strategies to protect constitutional rights in the face of game-changing advancements in technology. Our innovative approach centers race equity, fairness, accountability, and transparency, with a particular focus on disproportionately impacted communities.