Fight for the Future


Berkeley, CA becomes fourth US city to ban facial recognition

Posted 00:06 EDT on October 16, 2019
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Berkeley, CA just became the fourth city in the United States to pass an outright ban on all government use of facial recognition surveillance technology, after a unanimous city council vote on Tuesday. 

“The epidemic spread of facial recognition is a human rights crisis,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), “but we still have a chance to draw a line in the sand. The local advocates and lawmakers in Berkeley who passed this ban are showing us the way. Our surveillance nightmares are not inevitable. We’re fighting to ban government use of facial recognition everywhere.”

The victory in Berkeley comes amid growing backlash to facial recognition surveillance that has been spreading across the country. Last month Fight for the Future launched our BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, along with  an interactive map showing where in the US facial recognition surveillance is being used, and also where there are local and state efforts to ban it. San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, were the first cities in the country to ban the technology. A number of other cities are poised to follow suit, and bills to halt current use of the tech are moving in Massachusetts,  Michigan, and New York legislatures. In Congress, there is growing bipartisan agreement to address the issue, but it could easily stall under pressure from law enforcement and big tech.

Fight for the Future has mobilized tens of thousands of people to contact their lawmakers through our BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, which has been endorsed by more than 30 major grassroots civil rights organizations including Greenpeace, Color of Change, Daily Kos, United We Dream, Council on American Islamic Relations, MoveOn, and Free Press. We launched a separate campaign, supported by prominent musicians like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Amanda Palmer calling on major music festivals to commit to not using facial recognition at their events. In a month we’ve succeeded in securing commitments from many of the world’s largest music festivals, including SXSW, Coachella, and Bonnaroo.

Fight for the Future opposes attempts by the tech industry (including Amazon)  and law enforcement to pressure Congress to pass an industry-friendly “regulatory framework” for facial recognition that would allow this dangerous technology to spread quickly with minimal restrictions intended to assuage public opposition. But we support narrower efforts to ban or restrict specifically egregious uses of this surveillance, such as a bill introduced recently to ban the use of facial recognition in public housing. For more on our position, read our op-ed in Buzzfeed News: “Don’t regulate facial recognition. Ban it.”

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Major protests planned at BlizzCon grow even louder after Blizzard’s “cowardly” decision to continue banning political speech

Posted 13:39 EDT on October 15, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 15, 2019
Contact: Dayton Young, press@fightforthefuture.org, (508) 368-3026 

Hundreds of gamers and activists are coordinating on Discord and Reddit to plan Gamers for Freedom protests in defense of free expression

Hundreds of gamers and Internet activists are coordinating online to plan major protests at Activision-Blizzard’s annual conference, BlizzCon, which starts November 1st in Anaheim, CA. The protest organizing has only intensified after Blizzard issued a statement where it attempted to quell backlash by reducing its punishment of Hong Kong based professional gamer Blitzchung, but doubled down on it’s absurd policy that bans all forms of political speech and free expression.

The protest is part of the GamersForFreedom.com campaign that Fight for the Future unveiled last week, which features a scorecard to keep track of which companies have publicly pledged to not censor players the way Blizzard did, and which companies may already be caving to pressure from authoritarian governments. 

Fight for the Future is calling for the protests to be nonviolent and creative, encouraging participants to show up with umbrellas, in relevant costumes, and with signs and banners focused on free expression for all. The group is crowdfunding to support the protests, and has an online petition for those who cannot attend

“Decisions about how to moderate online speech are some of the most important decisions of our generation, and have profound implications for the future of humanity. Companies should not be making these decisions under pressure from ANY government, whether it’s China, the US, or the UK,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), “Blizzard’s attempt to quell this controversy is cowardly and it’s only going to backfire. This is not just about Blitzchung or Hong Kong –– they need to make a clear commitment to not act as the speech police on behalf of governments in general. A blanket ban on all political speech is inherently at odds with basic free expression. It’s taking sides with the status quo, and those who wish to suppress free speech. How you determine what is “political” is a political decision in and of itself.”

“This is not going away, she added, “Blizzard, and other companies who are engaging in censorship on behalf of an authoritarian government, are not going to get away with it. They have no idea what kind of Internet shitstorm they’ve unleashed. We’re going to make an example out of them to make sure that all companies know that throwing human rights and free expression under the bus to make some extra money will not be tolerated.”

Like many others in the tech and gaming worlds, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Blizzard banned a professional gamer and confiscated his tournament winnings because he advocated for his own political freedom. But we’ve been encouraged to see the immediate, widespread public backlash. And some game companies — such as Epic and Immutable — have made public pledges to never ban or punish their players for speaking about politics and human rights.

Dayton Young, Product Director at Fight for the Future, (pronouns he/him), added: “Gamers deserve to know which companies are willing to engage in censorship on behalf of authoritarian regimes and which companies will defend basic freedom of expression. Blizzard has engaged in blatant censorship and should immediately reverse its decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, restore his tournament winnings, and repair its relationships with the livestream casters. No gamers should be punished for expressing their views on politics and human rights. And no game company should ever ban or penalize players for advocating for their own political freedom. We call on all game developers and publishers to make a public commitment to support the rights of their customers, employees, and fans to freely express their beliefs in America, in Hong Kong, in China, and around the globe.”

Fight for the Future is coordinating with gamers and activists in a Discord channel and across social media, where game fans from around the world have been voicing their outrage at Blizzard and planning their own creative protests for BlizzCon. More updates to come.

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Internet freedom activists call for “umbrella protest” at BlizzCon opposing company’s Hong Kong censorship decision

Posted 14:47 EDT on October 11, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 11, 2019
Contact: Dayton Young, press@fightforthefuture.org, (508) 368-3026 

Gamers for Freedom website features scorecard showing which game companies have pledged to stand for free speech

Digital rights group Fight for the Future––known for organizing massive protests against SOPA, for net neutrality, and against government surveillance––is teaming up with gamers, redditors, and Internet freedom activists to call for a protest at Activision-Blizzard’s annual conference, BlizzCon, which starts November 1st in Anaheim, CA and attracts tens of thousands of gamers from all over the world. 

The protest is part of the GamersForFreedom.com campaign that Fight for the Future unveiled yesterday, which features a scorecard to keep track of which companies have publicly pledged to not censor players the way Blizzard did, and which companies may already be caving to pressure from authoritarian governments. 

“This is not going away,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), “Blizzard, and other companies who are engaging in censorship on behalf of an authoritarian government, are not going to get away with it. They have no idea what kind of Internet shitstorm they’ve unleashed. We’re going to make an example out of them to make sure that all companies know that throwing human rights and free expression under the bus to make some extra money will not be tolerated.”

Like many others in the tech and gaming worlds, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Blizzard banned a professional gamer and confiscated his tournament winnings because he advocated for his own political freedom. But we’ve been encouraged to see the immediate, widespread public backlash. And some game companies — such as Epic and Immutable — have made public pledges to never ban or punish their players for speaking about politics and human rights.

Dayton Young, Product Director at Fight for the Future, (pronouns he/him), added: “Gamers deserve to know which companies are willing to engage in censorship on behalf of authoritarian regimes and which companies will defend basic freedom of expression. Blizzard has engaged in blatant censorship and should immediately reverse its decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, restore his tournament winnings, and repair its relationships with the livestream casters. No gamers should be punished for expressing their views on politics and human rights. And no game company should ever ban or penalize players for advocating for their own political freedom. We call on all game developers and publishers to make a public commitment to support the rights of their customers, employees, and fans to freely express their beliefs in America, in Hong Kong, in China, and around the globe.”

Fight for the Future is coordinating with gamers and activists in a Discord channel and across social media, where game fans from around the world have been voicing their outrage at Blizzard and planning their own creative protests for BlizzCon. More updates to come.

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Gamers for Freedom campaign challenges Blizzard’s censorship and pushed game companies to stand up for free speech

Posted 16:36 EDT on October 10, 2019

Fight for the Future just launched a new campaign in response to Blizzard’s controversial decision to ban a professional gamer from Hong Kong for speaking out about the situation there. 

Here’s the site: GamersForFreedom.com 

It features a scorecard to keep track of which companies have publicly pledged to support the freedom of their players, and which companies have not. We’re also organizing gamers in a discord channel and planning to escalate our protests on this until Blizzard reverses its decision and other companies pledge to not make the same mistake. 

Like many others in the tech and gaming worlds, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Blizzard banned a professional gamer and confiscated his tournament winnings because he advocated for his own political freedom. But we’ve been encouraged to see the immediate, widespread public backlash. And some game companies — such as Epic and Immutable — have made public pledges to never ban or punish their players for speaking about politics and human rights.

Here’s a quote you can attribute to, Dayton Young, Product Director at Fight for the Future, (pronouns he/him): 

“Gamers deserve to know which companies are willing to engage in censorship on behalf of authoritarian regimes and which companies will defend basic freedom of expression. Blizzard has engaged in blatant censorship and should immediately reverse its decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, restore his tournament winnings, and repair its relationships with the livestream casters. No gamers should be punished for expressing their views on politics and human rights. And no game company should ever ban or penalize players for advocating for their own political freedom. We call on all game developers and publishers to make a public commitment to support the rights of their customers, employees, and fans to freely express their beliefs in America, in Hong Kong, in China, and around the globe.”

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NEW: 30+ civil rights organizations call on elected officials to stop Amazon’s doorbell surveillance partnerships with police

Posted 07:40 EDT on October 8, 2019

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, October 8
Contact: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457, press@fightforthefuture.org


Today, 30+ civil rights organizations signed an open letter sounding the alarm about Amazon’s spreading Ring doorbell partnerships with police. The letter calls on local, state, and federal officials to use their power to investigate Amazon Ring’s business practices, put an end to Amazon-police partnerships, and pass oversight measures to deter such partnerships in the future.

With no oversight and accountability, these partnerships pose a threat to privacy, civil liberties, and democracy. A few of the concerns highlighted by the organizations:

  • In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of surveillance footage, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies like ICE or the FBI.
  • Ring technology gives Amazon employees and contractors in the US and Ukraine direct access to customers’ live camera feeds, a literal eye inside their homes and areas surrounding their homes. These live feeds provide surveillance on millions of American families––from a baby in their crib to someone walking their dog to a neighbor playing with young children in their yard––and other bystanders that don’t know they are being filmed and haven’t given their consent. 
  • Amazon has not been transparent about plans to integrate facial recognition into Ring cameras. The Information reported Ring’s Ukraine-based research team accessed customer’s surveillance footage to train image recognition software. As facial recognition software has been shown to disproportionately misidentify people of color, women and transgender people, it further compounds existing civil liberties concerns and expands suspected criminality centered in racial profiling and gender bias.

The signing organizations include: Fight for the Future, Media Justice, Color of Change, Secure Justice, Demand Progress, Defending Rights & Dissent, Muslim Justice League, X-Lab, Media Mobilizing Project, Restore The Fourth, Inc., Media Alliance, Youth Art & Self Empowerment Project, Center for Human Rights and Privacy, Oakland Privacy, Justice For Muslims Collective, The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Nation Digital Inclusion Alliance, Project On Government Oversight, OpenMedia, Council on American-Islamic Relations-SFBA, Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, MPower Change, Mijente, Access Humboldt, RAICES, National Immigration Law Center, The Tor Project, United Church of Christ, Office of Communication Inc., the Constitutional Alliance, RootsAction.org, CREDO Action, Presente.org, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and United We Dream.

The map released by Amazon Ring shows more than 500 cities with Amazon-police partnerships.Through these partnerships, Amazon provides police officers with a seamless and easy way to request and store footage from thousands of residents throughout your city, allowing for warrantless surveillance with zero oversight or judicial review. In exchange, police departments market Amazon technology to residents and in some cases use taxpayer dollars to subsidize the resident’s purchase.

Leaders from the organizations participating in the campaign issued the following statements, and are available for comment upon request:

The following can be attributed to Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, (pronouns: she/her): “Amazon has created the perfect end run around our democratic process by entering into for-profit surveillance partnerships with local police departments. Police departments have easy access to surveillance network without oversight or accountability. Amazon Ring’s customers provide the company with the footage needed to build their privately owned, nationwide surveillance dragnet. We’re the ones who pay the cost - as they violate our privacy rights and civil liberties. Our elected officials are supposed to protect us, both from abusive policing practices and corporate overreach. These partnerships are a clear case of both.”

The following can be attributed to Myaisha Hayes, National Organizer on Criminal Justice & Tech at MediaJustice: “Ring will undoubtedly digitize discriminatory “neighborhood watch programs”, which in so many segregated communities, have always targeted and labeled Black and brown people as suspicious. Now through Ring, local police departments can take full advantage of their access to this information, further criminalizing people who existing in public spaces. Our local representatives must intervene and protect our right to privacy from this invasive technology and dangerous partnership between Amazon and the police.“

The following can be attributed to Leonard Scott IV, Campaign Manager on Criminal Justice Color of Change: “Black people and communities are overpoliced and live under the constant threat of police surveillance, which increases mass incarceration’s reach. Amazon is seeking to profit from mass surveillance by providing police with even more apparatuses, that we know will be used to target Black and Brown people. Technological tools like facial recognition and camera surveillance are already being used by police departments and cities across the country as a mechanism to over-police Black communities. We know that technology is already flawed and when used improperly and without government oversight, it will be abused and can put people at risk for being misidentified and falsely matched for crimes. With this letter, we call on local, state, and federal officials to put an end to the harmful Amazon Ring police partnerships.”

The following can be attributed to Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director of Media Alliance: “Amazon Ring police partnerships tangle up tax-payer supported public servants into the profit-driven mandates of a private corporation. Having our municipal peace keepers perform as ad-hoc sales representatives for private products with manufacturer-provided scripts is a perversion of the public sector. Ring’s provision of the names, street addresses, email addresses and subsidy use of Ring purchasers to law enforcement agencies is unacceptable. What other personal purchase of a household device is promptly reported to the police? Reports to law enforcement of Ring owners who do not consent to having their personal security footage tuned over to police profiles device owners choosing to exercise their privacy rights. Public agencies should stay out of private security. The police work for the people, not for Amazon.” 

The following can be attributed to Mike Katz-Lacabe, Oakland Privacy:
“Law enforcement should not be able to use private companies to engage in surveillance that has not been discussed by the community, approved by elected representatives, and that they don’t have the budget to conduct with their own resources. Almost every law enforcement agency would support installation of surveillance cameras at every corner or house, but a society in which we are encouraged to surveil each other is not healthy for a free society. We have enshrined limits on government power in the Bill of Rights and we should not use private companies to circumvent the Constitution.”

The following can be attributed to Dante Barry, Executive Director of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice: "There are dire consequences for racial justice when law enforcement agencies enter partnerships with major corporations and create a culture of surveillance under the guise of public safety. Without necessary oversight and community accountability mechanisms, this partnership is dangerous for law enforcement having access to and storing data without a warrant. This partnership threatens racial justice efforts and is a challenge for communities devastated by the impacts of every day gun violence, policing, and surveillance.”

The following can be attributed to Fatema Ahmad, Deputy Director of Muslim Justice League: “From Ring to Rekognition, Amazon’s partnerships with law enforcement will increase the dangerous racial targeting that communities of color already face every day.”

The following can be attributed to Sue Udry, Executive Director of Defending Rights & Dissent: “The exceedingly warm embrace of Amazon Ring by local police will go down as one more sorry chapter in the Big Brother annals. Let’s call it what it will become: neighbors spying on neighbors in the service of the police, free from any bothersome constitutional restraints. Local governments must step in and end any agreements their police have made with Amazon, and ensure none are made in the future.”

The following can be attributed to Alex Marthews, National Chair of Restore The Fourth: “This isn’t about fighting actual crime. This is about the paranoid and mostly white notion that owners of homes and businesses aren’t safe unless the police are pro-actively watching every square inch of public space. Truthfully, communities do better when police intervention is rare than when it is common; we need to free ourselves from the notion that more police eyes means more safety.“

The following can be attributed to Sean Taketa McLaughlin, Executive Director for Access Humbold: “We believe that privacy is essential for protecting freedom of information and expression. Information consumers and creators must have privacy as a fundamental right.  Sometimes people become complacent about these rights until they come under attack - but we know that eternal vigilance is required to sustain a healthy democracy.  

Unwanted surveillance, by public agencies or private companies for commercial gain, has an immediate chilling effect on local voices and harms many aspects of modern life. Public health and safety, education, commerce, culture, arts and civic engagement all suffer when our freedom of information and expression is suppressed. Diverse local voices require open secure networks that respect the personal privacy of all people, supporting our basic human right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19).”

The following can be attributed to Brian Hofer, Executive Director of Secure Justice and Chair of the City of Oakland’s Privacy Commission: “These partnerships raise several concerns. Public records have revealed that Amazon is coaching police on what to say to address criticism over these secret arrangements, and also how to avoid the need for a warrant. By turning publicly funded police into their sales team, Amazon has once again shifted its own costs of business onto the taxpayer. Our elected officials must demand answers from their law enforcement officials, and must put a stop to these dangerous practices.”

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