Plugging In: Institute for Digital Humanity and American Civil Liberties Union Host Community Event in North East Minneapolis

November 16, 2021

The Institute for Digital Humanity’s first major in-person event took place at NE Sculpture Park in Minneapolis on the evening of October 20. The main function of the event was to serve as community education on privacy and the dangers of surveillance. Besides the IDH, the event was hosted by ACLU MN, Reclaim the Block, and the Institute for Aesthetic Advocacy.

Andrea Rouse, a senior-level project manager working in Minneapolis, came to the event to be more informed about privacy. “I think I have a lot to learn. I know what’s out there, but I don’t know all the tools and how they’re being used.”

Around thirty people attended the event, and the evening included a presentation from associate director Shea Sullivan and her fellow IDH staff members Joe Cobb and Kiernan Marshall. They covered topics such as algorithms, facial recognition, and Big Tech data.

Zane Hock, the teenage son of the owner of NE Sculpture, commented on Big Tech abusing users’ privacy. “The way that Facebook sells your data, [and] TikTok just mines it…big companies take your data basically without you knowing it.”

During the presentation, the members of the Institute for Aesthetic Advocacy crafted zines from magazines, newspaper articles, and other materials on a table in the back of the room. Zines are scrapbook-type literary/visual works with a small circulation. The IAA opted to formulate their zines as a live response to the information being presented about race and technology, surveillance, and privacy.

Lex Horan, the organizer of Reclaim the Block, gave some insight into the mission of her grassroots organization: “Does anything we’re putting our resources into actually increase safety in a real and profound way? How do we build life-affirming institutions and technologies?” She went on to express her concerns with surveillance, especially its use within the city of Minneapolis.

Multiple legislators were in attendance to speak to the efforts being made to pass legislation on privacy and tech. Minneapolis Ward 3 City Council Member Steve Fletcher spoke briefly during the presentation, and Richfield City Council Member Simon Trautmann answered questions afterward.

Trautmann thinks more legislation is needed. “Creating a digital human rights act will give people both liberty and confidence and increase safety.” When asked about the likelihood of bipartisan support on issues of privacy, he said it was “extremely feasible…but unlikely.”

Johnathon McClellan, President of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, offered information on the bills his coalition drafted for this year’s legislative session. One directly involves digital rights, bill HF-1103: access to body camera footage within 48 hours for families of victims involved in critical police incidents.

McClellan stressed the importance of combining advocacy and legislation to make a real difference with digital rights. “The idea behind it is not just talking about the issue…let’s push that legislation to really change structures, change the system, and not just talk about the problem.”

Students educated the community about algorithms, facial recognition and Big Tech privacy issues.