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Op-Ed: Unintended consequences at the Legislature demand collaboration among leaders and advocates

Originally published on Colorado Newsline on May 3, 2024.

While it aimed to safeguard young users’ online experience, Senate Bill 24-158 introduced an alarming level of government surveillance. The bill was laid over on May 1, at the sponsor’s request, for further stakeholding in the interim. While this legislation was well-intentioned, we fear the new concerns regarding users’ data privacy, particularly for users from communities of color who are harmed by data collection and abuses of their right to privacy at a disproportionate rate.

Framed as a safety measure, the bill “Social Media Protect Juveniles Disclosures Reports” permits law enforcement access to individuals’ social media activities and private data for up to 90 days without their knowledge or a warrant, which raises significant privacy concerns. This bill also compels social media platforms to retain user data for a year, far longer than most platforms’ current 30- to 90-day standard. This retention policy of 90 days not only raises the risk of data breaches but also provides a fertile ground for misuse of users’ information, potentially criminalizing everyday interactions of Brown and Black users who are already under heightened scrutiny.

Studies have shown that communities of color are primarily targeted, discriminated against, and exploited through surveillance, policing, and algorithmic bias. Therefore, lawmakers must reconsider how the bill’s sweeping surveillance powers could deepen the existing racial disparities in online surveillance. The bill’s implications extend this history of surveillance to warrantless jurisdiction of online personal data, exposing people to discrimination, criminalization, and potential physical harm.

Supporters of SB-158 argue that the bill, which proposes stricter age-verification processes, is necessary to ensure age-appropriate online experiences for teenagers. While pursuing this goal should undoubtedly be a priority, the approach taken by SB-158 is to give law enforcement additional, unregulated access to people’s private data, which can then lead to unjust prosecution of over-criminalized populations. There are better ways to ensure minors have appropriate online experiences that don’t open the door to prosecutorial abuse or invasive blanket surveillance that risks the privacy and freedoms of countless Coloradans.

Colorado prides itself on being progressive and protecting its residents’ rights and dignity. If SB-158 had passed in its original form, it would have betrayed said values. Amid governmental interference in the personal lives of Americans across the country, our lawmakers should revisit the intent of this bill and consider the harmful effects it would have on communities of color and young people. Legislation should protect without harming, support without isolating, and govern without overreaching. That’s what it means to align with Colorado’s true spirit.

In a post-Roe world, bills that might not have impacted our civil or reproductive rights two years ago are now vehicles for the anti-abortion, anti-trans, far-right movement, which seeks to poke holes at our unenumerated civil liberties, such as the right to privacy. It should come as no surprise to us all that when politicians attack our most undeniable rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom to live authentically, and the freedom to determine our futures, our democracy is at risk of falling apart. In moments like these, we call on reproductive justice champions and allies, pillars across Colorado, to be firm and unwavering in their conviction that when we align in community-based policy solutions, we all win.

Let this session be a lesson that correlation and impact in seemingly unrelated laws create occasions for malicious interpretation and implementation. Our elected representatives must engage in meaningful stakeholding, consult, and trust the leadership of advocacy organizations like COLOR AF and our partners. Our intention is to provide a comprehensive and strategic analysis and a lens to lessen unintended consequences for disproportionately impacted communities. Our approach is centered on a human-rights-centered framework for the policy solutions our community deserves from us.

Only by working together can Colorado become a beacon of fairness and equity for everyone across our state.


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