Hexbyte Tech News Wired
Edward Snowden, NSA whistle-blower
Malkia Cyril, Founder of the Center for Media Justice, cofounder of Media Action Grassroots Network
People generally associate the word radical with extreme. But I prefer to think of the word in reference to its Latin origin: radix, the root of the issue.
My friend Malkia Cyril is a radical in the truest sense of the word. Malkia’s work goes right to the root of government surveillance: that it’s fundamentally about power and control, not simply safety and security.
Malkia is the founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice and cofounder of the Media Action Grassroots Network, a national network of racial and economic justice organizations working to ensure equal access to technology and communication. Among other things, they give digital security training to black activists, immigrant activists, and Muslim Americans.
Favorite rabbit hole:
Camera gear. “I spend an unreasonable amount of time reading reviews of some mirrorless Nikon I’ll never buy.”
When I came forward in 2013 with evidence that the NSA had been unconstitutionally intercepting the communications of ordinary Americans, many were shocked. Not Malkia. Born to a mother who was a member of the Black Panther Party and raised in Brooklyn in an environment of political ferment and police scrutiny, Malkia was fighting against the surveillance of activists and people of color before anyone knew my name. While the broader public debated whether the government should be collecting information about millions of innocent people, Malkia reminded us that some minority communities—African American activists, Muslim Americans, and others—have long been deemed “perpetually guilty.”
In an assessment written just two days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, the FBI named him “the most dangerous negro” in the country and a threat to our national security; soon thereafter, the NSA put him on a list of “domestic terrorist and foreign radical suspects.” If that seems like ancient history, consider that after the 9/11 attacks, the New York City Police Department sent informants and plainclothes officers into mosques, bookstores, restaurants, and Muslim student groups, instructing them to initiate conversations about “jihad.” Even more recently, the Department of Homeland Security began tracking the movements of Black Lives Matter activists who were protesting police shootings of unarmed civilians.
”My sister and I made a FOIA request for my mother’s FBI file. They located 1,422 pages responsive to our request.”
Malkia’s organizations help to safeguard groups like Black Lives Matter against surveillance. Their work is a reminder that if we want to have a sense of how the future may feel for all of us, we need to examine how the past and present have felt for some of us. For most of history, surveillance was costly and resource-intensive, so governments had to be selective in whom they targeted. Today, surveillance is digital, automated, and pervasive, and governments can afford to track and record nearly everyone.
When I first came forward, I warned that the surveillance system the government had created had terrible potential for abuse. In the wrong hands, it offered the opportunity for “turnkey tyranny.” Nothing that has occurred since has changed that assessment. Much of it has deepened my concern.
This is not science fiction—it is happening now, with those on the edge of society knowing all too well what it means to live under the unblinking eye of judgment. Truly understanding their experience may be our last chance to stay free.
Malkia’s radical lesson is about the nature of rights: The best way to protect somebody is to protect everybody—especially the most vulnerable among us.
This article appears in the October issue. Subscribe now.
MORE FROM WIRED@25: 2013-2018
- Editor’s Letter: Tech has turned the world upside down. Who will shake up the next 25 years?
- Opening essay by Virginia Heffernan: Things break and decay on the internet—that’s a good thing
- Satya Nadella and Jenny Lay-Flurrie: Mindful tech
- Susan Wojcicki and Geetha Murali: Getting girls into tech
- Jennifer Doudna and Jiwoo Lee: Taming Crispr
- Sundar Pichai and R. Kim: Every eye tells a story
Join us for a four-day celebration of our anniversary in San Francisco, October 12–15. From a robot petting zoo to provocative onstage conversations, you won’t want to miss it. More information at www.Wired.com/25.