Liberation Road

‘The Walls Have Ears’ — and Eyes

The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project

April 21, 2021/ This week’s issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

The old expression “the walls have ears” made perfect sense years ago when eavesdropping involved putting an ear to a keyhole. Back then, you could still whisper behind the walls of your room and keep your secrets.

Not anymore. Today’s walls have eyes as well as ears. In fact, forget using a wall as any kind of shield from the gaze of unknown and unwanted watchers. Those who would surveil us have infrared devices for detecting body heat, motion sensors, and facial recognition technology. They can tap into our mobile phones and computers. They can place cameras in drones or balloons overhead. A wall offers no safety or security.

A wall may also be the least effective method to detect and deter migrants crossing the border, the core reality that made Trump’s “build the wall” mantra nothing more than a political gimmick. President Biden, meanwhile, is talking about a “smart” or “virtual” wall to control the U.S.-México border, a dangerous turn in his administration’s migrant policy. Today’s surveillance technology, after all, can indeed be “effective.” Just look how this high-tech has helped the military target and kill “persons of interest” in the Middle East.

We are already giving away our private information freely and for free. Websites inform us — in the fine print — they can use what they learn about us however they want. Our online corporate giants are chasing after profits and reaping windfalls, selling the vast amounts of data they extract from us to police and government agencies. Our tax dollars are, in effect, stripping us of privacy, leaving us naked and exposed.

If we continue to shrug off the high-tech surveillance focused on migrants, that surveillance will overtake all our lives. We’ll come to resemble Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show, living lives secretly televised without our knowledge or consent. We need to turn our own eyes and ears on Big Brother, before he focuses, ever so tightly, on all of us.

Earlier this month, Jacinta Gonzalez of the economic and social justice group Mijente moderated an engaging online discussion that elicited questions from a wide range of activists about how we can push back against the expanding use of surveillance technologies — against migrants first and foremost, but also against us all as well. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar offered commentary throughout this bilingual Digital Dragnet program, and we’ve excerpted below the insights she and other contributors shared.

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