We know that the cops surveil us at protests, which is why you generally should be cautious about posting crowd photos and get a burner. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, Democratic voter registration groups have jumped on the BLM surveillance bandwagon, collaborating with the tech firms in order to identify protesters’ locations (or, geofence them) and later serve ads with voter registration links. They’re following Republicans and the police down a slippery slope: TO HELL.
The Journal reports that VoteMAP, a “government relations” location-gathering service that gathers data from users’ location-tracking apps, has helped hoover data for The Collective PAC, a group that aims to elect more African American representatives. According to the Journal, VoteMAP targeted users’ movements in Columbus, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.; The Collective then served mobile ads to over 14,000 devices with the first slide reading: “Let’s keep the same energy in November.” Similarly, they report, the Democratic voter registration group Field Team 6 has been using Facebook ad tools to target users in protest locations.
Collecting data at political locations isn’t new, for Democrats or Republicans. The New York Times recently reported that Democratic and progressive groups also used geofencing in Pennsylvania polling places during the primaries, serving them ads on how to vote by mail in November. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that, in 2018, Beto O’Rourke’s campaign gathered rally attendees’ contacts and added them to their email lists.
Republican rivals are known to have perfected the strategy, using geofencing to track attendees at Trump rallies and churches. In November 2020, Catholic Vote—a Steve Bannon cohort—admitted to, and boasted about, their “largest Catholic voter mobilization program ever,” a geofencing campaign which they described thusly:
We’ve already identified 199,241 Catholics in Wisconsin who’ve been to church at least 3 times in the last 90 days. So they are “active” Catholics. The faith is obviously a priority for them — and most importantly, their conscience is active and the Holy Spirit is at work! But here’s the critically important thing we discovered. Over half of these people — 91,373 Mass-attending Catholics — are not even registered to vote!
They added, of course, that they were aiming to fend off the Democratic 2020 nominee. In a separate post from October 2020, Catholic Vote president Brian Burch wrote that the group had used geofencing in order to tell “Catholics in Missouri the truth about then-Senator Claire McCaskill” (namely, she supported abortion rights).
Location targeting creeps out the ideological spectrum. In January, the National Catholic Reporter warned readers to turn off their phones in church or else risk being targeted by GOP political action committees. But Black Lives Matter protesters have the most to lose from the surveillance state. The company Geofeedia, which has used social media to monitor people attending protests over the police killing of Freddie Gray, has bragged about helping police to identify and round up protesters with unrelated outstanding warrants. We only know about this case because the ACLU obtained it fortuitously from unrelated records requests to California law enforcement agencies; it’s nearly impossible to know which surveillance records to request because surveillance is inherently clandestine. Democratic voting organizations are bobbing on the surface of a murky sea of data collection that we’re only beginning to understand. VoteMAP claims to give people “the opportunity to make better-informed choices, thus strengthening our democracy”; denying voters informed consent undermines that mission.