A joint statement from May First and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
Last week, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition launched a public-records sourced educational resource, the Watch the Watchers website. This website is a searchable index of over 9,300 sworn Los Angeles police officers, displaying their departmental photos, LAPD serial numbers, and other official information about each officer.
The website is not only a practical tool for researching abusive police officers but also a public education resource. What happens when we flip the surveillance power dynamic?
We quickly learned the answer to that question.
Stop LAPD Spying is a member of May First Movement Technology, a cooperative that provides hosting services to its members, including the Watch the Watchers site. Soon after the site’s launch, May First began receiving pressure to take the site down, supposedly because it was in violation of California law prohibiting “misappropration” of personal information.
Yet, the misappropriation law - which prevents your name, image or personal information from being used against your wishes in products, merchandise, or goods - is intended to protect your likeness from being commercialized for profit. It does not protect public officials from having already publicly available data about them shared in a new online format.
Stop LAPD Spying’s lawyer responded to the take down request, clearly outlining how 100% of the information published on Watch the Watchers is data made public by government agencies based on the California Public Records Act, and none of it us being used to sell or promote any products.
The story soon took another turn. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a private association of police officers, filed a lawsuit demanding that city officials take legal action against anyone who publishes the records. The lawsuit argues that the publicly released data includes “undercover” officers, which they’ve claimed means all “officers that surveil” and officers who might take an undercover assignment in the future (citation). The police association behind the lawsuit has vowed that they will “ask the judge to temporarily take down the Watch the Watchers website” until their dispute with the city is resolved (citation).
Threats like this are textbook tactics used widely by corporations and government agencies to intimidate hosting providers and pressure them to remove perfectly lawful content. These bogus legal claims are used to bully people who do not have the energy, legal resources, or political will to fight.
Unfortunately, the corporations controlling our online tools are growing larger while also forming lucrative partnerships with police agencies as they develop new surveillance technologies. This combination is a potential disaster for movement activists who depend on the Internet to fight police abuse or any issue critical of capitalism or the corporate classes.
May First Movement Technology and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition stand together against both police surveillance and the corporate technology that fuels this dangerous trend. We encourage all movement activists to fight the stalker state while supporting autonomous movement technology providers. You can learn how to join and support this movement at https://stoplapdspying.org/ and https://mayfirst.coop/.