Motherboard Vice reports that every month for the past five years, Harlem residents have gathered to discuss digital privacy and how to best protect themselves from intrusive surveillance. Motherboard joined Crypto Harlem founder Matthew Mitchell at one of his cryptoparties to see firsthand how he is empowering people of color, who he says are over policed and heavily surveilled.
Mitchell compared surveillance of the black community to a type of digital Stop and Frisk, a controversial policing practice of detaining and searching citizens on the street for weapons and contraband. According to estimates by the New York Civil Liberties Union, Stop and Frisk initiatives have led to the interrogation of more than five million New Yorkers since 2002. In every year since its inception, more than half of those stopped have been black.
“I’m a hacker but I’m black first,” Mitchell said. “When you see me a block away you know I’m black. You don’t know I’m a hacker.”
Though physical Stop and Frisk incidents have declined since 2014 (Mayor Bill de Blasio said the program has been “changed intensely”), Mitchell said the threat of overreaching digital surveillance may be even more nefarious.
“You can’t buy a bag of chips in Harlem without being surveilled,” he said.