Grassroots Leadership published a report that reveals how the Austin Regional Intelligence Center (ARIC) uses technology to conduct invasive surveillance on a wide array of Austin residents through a web of high-tech surveillance and data-sharing contracts, as well as in-person monitoring.
"We found intrusion of surveillance in the Latino community through our immigration work. We realized that it is something that negatively impacts anybody, whether you are an immigrant or not. That's something that people don't want in their daily lives,"," said Co-Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, Claudia MuĂ±oz, in an exclusive interview with LPO.
Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. The organization focuses on influencing public policy to support Latino and migrant communities in Texas.
From surveilling online cultural events and student protests to sharing information mined from residents' utility accounts, Facebook profiles, and license plate reader technology with agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ARIC collects and disseminates vast quantities of data about Austin residents with minimal limitations or oversight.
This infrastructure harms some of Austin's most vulnerable community members. It increases exposure of Austin area residents to deportation while also subjecting all residents to unprecedented levels of police surveillance in their daily lives.
"In Austin we've worked on policies that try to limit the contact between community members with the police and ICE. We found that a lot of those contacts are not justified by any means," she added.
ARIC uses city resources to share personal information of vulnerable Austin residents - including students and immigrants - with federal agencies, placing them at greater risk of arrest, detention, and deportation.
MuĂ±oz argues that "ARIC claims to protect the public, but that's impossible to achieve through surveillance. In reality, ARIC creates a network of information that empowers the police state to continue its criminalization and persecution of Black and brown communities."
Grassroots Leadership and other organizations urged the City of Austin to shift funding toward initiatives such as community hubs, public health workers, universal basic income, and immigrant legal defense that will keep communities safe.
They believe the surveillance that ARIC is conducting violates core human rights, civil liberties and that it threatens all residents' rights to privacy, freedom of speech, and movement. It particularly poses a threat to Black and immigrant Austin residents to criminalization, arrest, and deportation.
"The Latino community is one of the most impacted by both the immigration and criminal justice system in the country, particularly in Texas", she said.
MuĂ±oz also argued that Texas Governor Greg Abbott's "refusal to invest in alternatives to harsh policing, harsh sentencing, and harsh bail is not helping anybody, it's just hurting people. What makes people safe is having actual opportunities and access to resources."
Although MuĂ±oz is aware that a small organization like Grassroots Leadership alone cannot stand "against 400 years of oppression and harmful systems," she believes that "when you invest in people's lives, when you see them as human beings, rather than problems to be solved, or people who are disposable is when you start to see changes in their lives."
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