Civil Liberties Groups Warn About Expansive New Police Power After Capitol Riot They say new police and surveillance powers could, if history is a guide, be used against Blacks and other people of color in the justice system, not the white rioters who stormed the Capitol.


Response To Capitol Riot Could Hurt Minorities, Civil Libertarians Say

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Civil liberties advocates are warning the insurrection at the Capitol could lead to new police and surveillance powers. They say if history is a guide, those tools could be used against Black and brown people in the justice system, not just the white supremacists who stormed Congress. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Albert Fox Cahn watched in horror this month as rioters beat and shoved their way into the U.S. Capitol. The civil rights lawyer says the images made him angry.

ALBERT FOX CAHN: You know, in that moment, I myself felt that same anger that I want to catch these guys after seeing what they did to our Capitol. And that anger, that frustration, that desire for justice, that can lead us to very dangerous places.

JOHNSON: Cahn runs a group that fights what he calls invasive surveillance technologies - things like facial recognition and the use of cellphone location data. Cahn worries all of those things are on the table as lawmakers confront how close they came to danger, embraced even by members of Congress who have been open to the idea of reducing police power, such as incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who now proposed expanding the federal no-fly list to add Capitol rioters.


CHUCK SCHUMER: These insurrectionists, many of whom are known to be at large, should not be able to hop on a flight.

JOHNSON: The head of the FBI's Washington Field Office, Steven D'Antuono, would not rule it out at a news conference last week.


STEVEN D'ANTUONO: As for the no-fly list, we look at all tools and techniques that we possibly can use within the FBI, and that's something that we are actively looking at.

JOHNSON: Critics say the no-fly list discriminates against Muslims and other minorities. They call the list bloated and mostly ineffective since it contains information that can be wrong or out of date. The deadly assault on the Capitol is also reviving the idea of creating new federal crimes. Greg Nojeim works at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

GREGORY NOJEIM: Some people are calling for a new law that would create a domestic crime of terrorism.

JOHNSON: That idea has won support from former national security prosecutors and a trade group for FBI agents. President-elect Joe Biden has expressed openness to a new domestic terror law, too. But Nojeim says not so fast.

NOJEIM: And the reason there is not such a crime is because there's concern - and it's legitimate - that such a statute would be used to squelch legitimate free expression.

JOHNSON: Nojeim points out federal prosecutors are already considering the charge of sedition against some culprits. He says sedition carries a 20-year prison sentence.

NOJEIM: It would be a shame if the response to poor policing was to give the police more authority that would infringe on civil liberties.

JOHNSON: Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar agrees. She tweeted, quote, "We cannot simply expand the tools that have oppressed Black and Brown people. The answer is not a broader security structure, or a deeper police state. We have to stay rooted in a love of justice and of human rights and of civil liberties as we seek accountability."

The FBI wouldn't confirm whether it is using facial-recognition tools to help identify the mob that stormed the Capitol, but civil rights lawyers have a hunch they are. Faulty facial-recognition has led to wrongful arrests of Black men. Catherine Crump is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

CATHERINE CRUMP: And until those racial disparities are fixed, this is not a technology that should be deployed on a widespread basis.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.


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