Homayra Yusufi: Oral Histories of Surveillance

I started volunteering for the Council on American Islamic Relations, and working with them I started learning even more about how the government was surveilling our communities. I actually started working with them part-time in college and there was a leak at Camp Pendleton of someone who’d taken a whole bunch of confidential information out. In that, they had a newsletter that I had created myself with my own picture on it. That was in the leak. I remember looking at that and being like, “This is what the government was surveilling?” (laughs) Like, a newsletter where I talked about a Know Your Rights event that I helped put on together? So that was something that definitely shifted the dynamics in my mind about how our communities were being surveilled without even knowing it for doing things as simple as Know Your Rights in our community.
—Homayra Yusufi

Our Data Bodies (ODB) is excited to present our 15 part series of oral histories from organizers, writers, and cultural workers whose work has been steeped in resisting discriminatory surveillance technology and racialized surveillance capitalism, and has illuminated strategies for abolition and abolitionist reform. This oral history features Homayra Yusufi who is an organizer currently with Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, a nonprofit located in San Diego focused primarily on the refugee and AMMSA communities, AMMSA being Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African diasporic communities. The transcript, which has been slightly edited for clarity, follows below.  



Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: How would you describe the work that you do?


Homayra Yusufi: So, currently, I work for PANA, the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans. We are a nonprofit located in San Diego, in City Heights, which is really one of the immigrant and refugee hubs of San Diego, but also the country. We focus primarily on the refugee and AMMSA communities, AMMSA being Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian, but we also focus actually a lot on African diasporic communities. We have a really large East African community here in San Diego, especially in City Heights. So we’re focused primarily towards the refugee community, our mission is really the full economic, civic, political—everything—inclusion of refugee communities. We want to make sure that folks who are resettled here are able to basically have a smooth transition into homes after a really turbulent time, and that they’re able to find jobs that are living wage, that they’re able to take care of their families, all of that. And so we are one of the few organizations that are advocacy organizations in the refugee realm; most folks are settlement organizations. We don’t do that. We do make sure our people are taken care of but we do more advocacy with the local government, state government, and we do some work at the national level, as well.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: How did you get involved in that work?


Homayra Yusufi: I grew up in San Diego. I, myself, my family were refugees from Afghanistan, we came to the United States when I was five. I actually wasn’t resettled here, I was a refugee in neighboring Pakistan and we came here as immigrants to basically reunite with our family that was already here as refugees. So, I had that refugee experience myself, this is my home, I’ve got 100 family members that live in San Diego—at least [laughs]. And, you know, I recognize a lot of the issues that were happening here early on from personal experience. I was five years old when I came to the United States and I was put into kindergarten right away, not understanding any English. I was put into ESL classes that were predominantly Spanish speakers and no one spoke Farsi. I was disabled. I spent a lot of my youth in and out of school because of my disabilities and because of the surgeries I had.


And so those personal experiences really brought me into this thinking of like, what happened in my situation? What were the political dynamics that created the situations where we had to leave our country and resettle in two different countries until we found San Diego as our home? How do I make the world a better place? How do I make it different for folks? So I went and studied public policy at UC Berkeley, I came back and I actually worked for the ACLU for several years working on immigrant rights issues focused primarily around state policy and got connected with PANA when it was first starting out. I’ve known the executive director and the work that she’s been doing for many years, I supported it, and then eventually, she was able to convince me to come on board as Deputy Director at PANA about a year and a half ago.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Since you’ve been in San Diego for the majority of your life, what were your first encounters with surveillance in your community?


Homayra Yusufi: After September 11th, I think that was the first time that I encountered surveillance—and surveillance of our entire community. I was in ninth grade when September 11 happened, and I remember that day watching the news with my sister as soon as we got into school and it was on all the TVs and I remember the first thought that we—me and my sister—both had and said to each other was like, “God, please don’t let this be a Muslim,” because we knew the repercussions it would have on our community, you know? And, of course, that’s exactly what happened. We had FBI agents come to our home at four or five o’clock in the morning, around our morning prayer time, asking questions to my dad and my brother like, “Do you know this person? Do you know that person?”


We felt a lot of fear and we felt surveilled right at the beginning—if not by the government then also by our neighbors and everyone around us. I, at the time, did not wear a headscarf, so most folks didn’t know I was Muslim but I definitely felt that within our community. I saw my sister, who did wear a headscarf, have hate crimes happen to her, have a student scream in her ear. And then also our mosques being surveilled. I started volunteering for the Council on American Islamic Relations, and working with them I started learning even more about how the government was surveilling our communities. I actually started working with them part-time in college and there was a leak at Camp Pendleton of someone who’d taken a whole bunch of confidential information out. In that, they had a newsletter that I had created myself with my own picture on it. That was in the leak. I remember looking at that and being like, “This is what the government was surveilling?” (laughs) Like, a newsletter where I talked about a Know Your Rights event that I helped put on together? So that was something that definitely shifted the dynamics in my mind about how our communities were being surveilled without even knowing it for doing things as simple as Know Your Rights in our community.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: What moved you to get involved with the campaign against the smart streetlights in San Diego?


Homayra Yusufi: I was working with PANA, and one of the organizations that we work really closely with is Pillars of the Community; they’re also based in San Diego and they focus primarily on criminal justice issues. I’m on their board, so we work really closely together and there were these forums that they were having. After the fact, we figured out it was because ACLU had sent a letter to them saying there needs to be more community information about these smart streetlight cameras, so the director at Pillars of the Community participated in one of these meetings and was just shocked that this is what was happening. Thousands of smart streetlight cameras were put all throughout the city of San Diego, primarily in communities of color, and they had been installed in 2016 and approved by city council as these smart, sustainable streetlights so that they would be able to be turned off from one location and potentially that there could be, like, parking assistance and things like that.


But they didn’t state that each one of them had cameras on them with voice capabilities, with facial recognition capabilities, with Shotspotter. They said some of them were turned on and some of them were not turned on but there was no way to actually confirm what was happening. And about a year after they were put into place, the police department got access, full access, to them and was using them to—according to them—solve crimes. I went to the follow-up meeting because at the first one he was absolutely shocked. He invited me to the second meeting and the Commander or something—the one that was working with the private company, GE, on this project—at first was saying, “Well, you can’t tell anybody’s faces and there’s a gray screen in people’s homes, so we can’t really tell and they just have these silhouettes of people.” And then a minute later he’s like, “Oh, and then this guy in this shooting looked right up at the camera, and we got a complete picture of his face, and we were able to identify him.”


So we were like, how is it that you’re using silhouettes but you can also literally tell the identification of this person and probably run it through facial recognition software in order to determine exactly who they were? And so we asked them a lot of questions. They were pushing back saying, “Oh, the ACLU has approved this,” and I’ve worked for the ACLU before, so I knew exactly what their stances were [laughs], so we had a back and forth just basically stating that these were all lies. And right after that, we were like, “Okay, we need to do something about this.”


This was not on our radar, you know? We were working on broader surveillance issues at PANA but not necessarily at this localized level. However, at that point, we recognized that this was happening under everyone’s noses—not even the city council was aware when they approved these. We went back and looked at the video and there was no discussion about these cameras. There was no discussion about anything. And so we decided to bring folks together at PANA just to have a conversation about, what do we do next? So we went to folks who we thought were people who care about this issue and those definitely were more of, like, grassroots organizations that we reached out to. We also reached out to the ACLUs of the world but we really wanted to make sure that we centered Black and brown voices in this.


So we had an initial meeting and then we decided, “You know what, let’s do a press conference to really bring forth this issue and tell the city that they need to have proper policies in place and without that, they need to turn off these cameras altogether.” We demanded a moratorium. We sent a letter to the city, and after that. We worked with Councilmember Monica Montgomery—she was a council member that really took this on and championed it for us through City Council—and it was very much a public fight at this point, we got a lot of media attention around it. Folks were just so surprised, at the local level but also the national level, that this private company who owned all of the data to these streetlight cameras was able to sell it to whoever they wanted, was stored by a third party, but was using City dollars. And it was really expensive. Initially they said it was $30 million. They were using community block funding to fund it, so funding which is supposed to go to building streets and paving the streets was going into surveillance.


The issues were so compounded in that but we also recognized that, for the city of San Diego—and I’m sure many other localities, too—this wasn’t the first time that a surveillance technology was passed without folks knowing. A few years ago, there were the license plate readers that were then being shared with immigration enforcement in the city of San Diego, and we heard about that on the news. Then, again, just recently, we were informed that the Chula Vista Police Department was doing the same thing, using the same company—Vigilant—and was sharing all of their license plate reader data with CBP and ICE as well as all the other law enforcement agencies that participate in this program. So we really wanted to create an ordinance that was going to handle all of these issues that were going to come about, that was going to look at the existing surveillance technology that the city has but also potential future plans.


And so we looked at best practices throughout the country, we connected with folks at Secure Justice, in parts of Oakland and other cities—Seattle, New York—who’ve passed these more progressive policies around anti-surveillance measures and we drafted an ordinance with the councilmember and was able to actually get it passed unanimously in November. So, now, it’s at meet and confer and they’re basically meeting with the unions—there’s six unions represented in the city of San Diego—so they’re meeting with them to negotiate the terms of the ordinances since there was, of course, a claim we made that this doesn’t need to go to meet and confer; we’re not telling them what to do, per se, we are just adding processes that the city needs to go to in order to keep existing technology or to get new ones.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: What is your sense of the level of awareness that the elected officials that were voting on these technologies had about either their use or their implications? Was there a high level of awareness?


Homayra Yusufi: No, we talked to the council members who made that vote in 2016 and most of them said, “We had no idea.” And I think the problem is—especially when you’re talking about big data, when you’re talking about surveillance—it’s so convoluted and folks just don’t understand the complexities of it. So there was definitely this recognition by council members that, you know, “We’re making decisions every day about so many different contracts, so if you’re asking me to go look in the details of all of the contracts and say, ‘What are the civil rights implications of each one of these?’ that might be difficult for me to do.”


And so that’s why we thought of this model of creating a privacy advisory board and really making sure that those are independent community experts. So we have those civil rights experts in the room. We have those technological experts in the room, the data experts, and the auditing experts who can actually look at these contracts and these proposals and create suggestions based on what needs to be modified. Or tell the city council like, “This is really bad. I really recommend you shouldn’t do this.”


And right now, that’s not happening. That’s the problem. We don’t even know when these contracts are coming up to the city council. There’s no pre-notification system, there’s no public dialogue. Our ordinance will also require these community meetings to be had about acquiring new technologies before it comes to city council so that by the time it does, the council members know, “Okay, this is what the community feedback was.”


So, like, how do we have those conversations about the smart street light cameras before they actually put it in place? Because I can bet you that those contracts probably wouldn’t have been signed, at least not as is. And so I think even the community awareness around surveillance technology in San Diego was something that we’re all learning. Like I said, we don’t have the EFFs (Electronic Frontier Foundation) of the world and other organizations that are, like, the watchdogs of surveillance. So we’re kind of organically creating it, just recognizing that this is how this affects our communities like right now.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: One of the things that came up in our prep call was this notion that you’re advocating for a process where, at the end of it, you may then be on the other side of whatever the topic that’s in front of the community board or the city council might be. Is that something that informs the way that you approach this? That the end result might still be that it’s not like all copacetic and there might still be some amount of conflict?


Homayra Yusufi: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s bringing together radical organizations who work on the ground, and a lot of those folks are abolitionists, so they’re like, “Shut down all the surveillance technology.” And then there’s other folks who are like, “Okay, incremental process.”


And so I think just even figuring out what our model was, was a difficult place for us to reach and what would we be okay with, in terms of the City, and what would we not be okay with; there was a lot of tension in those conversations, which I think is really good, right? Because that really created this, like, us being true to who we are but then also us being able to pass a strong policy. We were balancing that because we could say till the cows come home that we want all surveillance technology off. But is the city council going to actually do that? And so we’re very honest that we’re gonna put these processes in place and what it will give us is an opportunity to organize, and I think that’s the part that is important to organizations like PANA so if there is a surveillance technology that’s coming down the pike that we definitely don’t agree with, that we think has huge implications for our communities, this gives us an opportunity to organize. This gives us an opportunity to turn out our communities at the forums, at the Privacy Advisory Board meetings, at city council, and to be able to push back.


Currently, there’s no opportunity really to push back because there’s just no transparency as to what is happening and how these things get passed. So this will really slow down that process and create those opportunities for engagement from the community. And we’re hoping that we can actually get really good community members on the Privacy Advisory Board so that they’re also part of that body that’s making these modifications and suggestions and involved in those conversations with City staff and with whatever company is coming to try to sell their surveillance technology. So, you know, is it perfect? No. We recognize that. But will it provide some process that doesn’t exist currently? Yes, and I do think that’s very important.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Community education seems to be a huge piece in a lot of these campaigns. What has been your experience with enfranchising or supporting the people in the communities that are hopefully going to be sitting on these boards and really having their voices heard?


Homayra Yusufi: I mean, even myself, I don’t have a background in privacy rights and surveillance. I work in the immigrant rights world and so I definitely see the overlap, but to know the nuances of how this data could potentially be used in a harmful way was something that was difficult for me to grasp myself initially. And I think it was important for me, personally, to educate myself and to do research and have these discussions, and we found really great allies in the tech world; folks who work for tech companies who recognize, like, “Hey, there’s a problem here and there needs to be some limits to how we use these technologies that I myself and my company might be creating,” you know? And so, that was actually a really great part of what we were able to bring in.


We have UCSD right here, which has these kinds of labs and so we have a professor, Professor Lilly Irani, who worked really closely with us. We had other folks from the privacy and surveillance and tech world also kind of be able to provide us that expertise. We have the chair of the Privacy Advisory Commission in Oakland who has been invaluable to us and providing us with the language when we needed it and things like that—how do we do amendments?—all of those things. So being able to tap into different networks was really important, and then we have done—I don’t even know how many—community education forums and most of these were during the time of COVID. I think COVID has definitely presented interesting challenges and opportunities but also many challenges in terms of doing community education. So we’ve been doing that and we recognize it’s going to be an ongoing process of how we educate our communities, not only about the surveillance technology and this issue that we’re facing, but within the Muslim community. We have this huge infrastructure of surveillance that is built primarily to surveil our communities and folks don’t necessarily understand it but they see it and they fear it, you know? And so trying to get past the fear and trying to educate our community about these and then to try to advocate for change is something that PANA is really committed to.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: What has the reaction been in the broader community outside of the communities that were part of this natural coalition? Did you get any pushback?


Homayra Yusufi: Generally, I don’t think most people knew it was happening. We have had a couple of really good journalists doing investigative reporting—Jesse Marx from Voice of San Diego has been super-integral for us in this—and other outlets are also reporting on this and, generally, folks are in agreement that there needs to be something put in place. They’re recognizing the fact that city council didn’t know the ballooning cost of all of this, the basically unfettered access to the technology by the police department—all of these things—and there needs to be some limitations put into it and there needs to be some conversations that happen. So, to get these ordinances to where they are currently, we had to go through two rules committees, we had to go in front of city council, and we haven’t really had any pushback. There hasn’t really been any community members who have been coming forth in opposition to what we’re doing. I think there’s generally this understanding that there needs to be some change happen. I think—what’s that phrase?—the devil is in the details, so of course there are some things with the police department that we don’t agree with, that we want to make sure there’s still accountability and oversight, and I guess the phase we’re in currently is making sure that this ordinance still has the accountability and transparency pieces in it.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Would you describe what you are working towards as organizing against something or organizing for something?


Homayra Yusufi: A little bit of both. I think we are organizing for true transparency and accountability. I think that’s what we’re organizing for in the city of San Diego as well as broader. I mean, there was news that just came out yesterday about the county having this working group where they are basically giving, I believe, $100 million in grants for surveillance technologies to local police departments in San Diego, without any approval process from any city council body or any public body. So we are pushing against those things, we’re pushing against this secrecy, we’re pushing back against technologies that are going to harm our communities that we don’t even know about. There’s no public process for it. We are pushing back against this, like, status quo that San Diego has had, I mean, I know since September 11, but maybe before that as well.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Have you found any kind of unexpected support or unexpected alliances that have formed around this campaign?


Homayra Yusufi: Yeah. Our coalition has 30-plus organizations and is so diverse. We have this thing in San Diego, ‘North of The 8 and South of The 8’ [laughs]. As you can imagine, North of The 8 is the suburbs and white-majority communities, and then South of The 8 is the people of color, low-income, things like that, and we’ve had broad support from both communities. Folks who might not understand the implications or might not care about the implications that surveillance technology has on, you know, refugee communities in City Heights, but they care about it being on their street and who can look at them going in and out of their homes anytime. So, I definitely think there’s been a lot of broad support around this issue. Folks understanding, like, how does this deal with criminal justice? How does this deal with immigration? How does it deal with national security—just those nexuses that happened—and we’ve been really able to build out a strong coalition. Even academia coming into this, and like I mentioned, I believe someone from Qualcomm called last time in support of this, so even the tech companies are recognizing as they’re creating this. Actually, the tech company that bought these streetlights from GE, Ubicquia, even their CEO said that policies like this are needed and are important. I can get you the direct quote but even they are recognizing that and they’re not necessarily pushing back against it.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: When you talk about this campaign, is there a single story that your brain immediately goes to as to the impact of this kind of work?


Homayra Yusufi: For me, I think all of this is around trust and rebuilding trust from our communities with the government. I think issues or technologies like this and the secrecy just breaks all trust with our communities and for a democracy to work, there needs to be that trust with the government. I think that’s what’s been lost in these things. And so, looking at the immigration consequences that folks have—for example, with the case of the license plate readers and folks afraid of being deported and separated from their families—I think that those kinds of stories are really, really important, especially in San Diego being a border town. So, for me, personally, and for the communities I represent or we represent, I think that those are really important, is how do we rebuild that trust?


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: This may be a complex question, but what is your vision of success? How would you know that this has succeeded?


Homayra Yusufi: My vision of success would be that we have robust representation and that there is a robust community engagement in what surveillance looks like; that the community is engaged in those, that their voices are heard in that process and that our elected officials are making informed decisions keeping in mind and hearing strongly from the communities they represent about what the potential implications could be, because there are some technologies—Like, that’s what we say; we’re not against all technologies [laughs]. We want to keep San Diego’s booming economy, however, we want to make sure that our communities are not getting the tail end of that. And so I think, for me, success is that our communities are engaged, they’re part of the decision making processes, and that there’s education; that folks understand the implications of surveillance right here at home.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: You spoke earlier about having agents of the state—the FBI—and state-level apparatuses being the ones engaging in the surveillance when you were younger. Did the fact that private industry was involved in the course of this campaign shift anything for you i.e. make it more concerning or less?


Homayra Yusufi: Definitely, I think it’s very concerning. I’m actually very fearful of that fact, because at least with government, you can advocate, you can create these kinds of limitations, you can organize around them. With private industries, you just don’t have that same ability and so the fact that they can sell this data to whoever they want, whatever governments they want, whatever other companies, is super concerning. I know California has been passing laws to limit some of that, but it’s still not nearly where it should be and that’s concerning. I think having the city or whatever governmental entity have ownership of it also allows us to have, like, a designated target and when you put it to this third party, it’s really, really difficult to be able to advocate against.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Did the fact that it was a private company impact your ability to get information as you were formulating your knowledge base and the campaign tactics?


Homayra Yusufi: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think we even had the contract at first. So, it took a lot of digging; you’re having to do PRAs and things like that—there’s a lot more that you need to do in order to get those things. And in the midst of this, of course, one company sells the technology to another company and now you’re looking at new terms of agreement and new information and it’s constantly shifting. Even right now, we were told by the City—by the mayor—that they had to turn off the smart streetlight cameras but then we were told, “No, actually the company has them on, it’s just that the law enforcement doesn’t have access to them right now.” So there’s a lot of, like, ‘he says, she says’ in these kinds of situations and just so much convoluted information because if there’s no nexus with the government, we can’t PRA them and see what they’re doing with the data. There’s not those processes in place as it would be when there is direct government involvement.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: In your sense, is it ignorance of how the technology works that feeds that convolution or was that a strategy? Did it feel like a purposeful obfuscation of what this can do or was it just the people that you’re engaging don’t know?


Homayra Yusufi: Honestly, I don’t know. Probably a mix of both [laughs]. Some of the council members, I know them very well, and I think it was just a lack of understanding. But what was GE trying to do in that and how the information was shared with law enforcement—the conversations that happened there and that they had full access and all of these things—you know, they didn’t even have a policy put into place when they started getting access to this. They were telling us, “Oh, we only have it for five days and we’re not sharing it with immigration enforcement,” but there was nothing to hold them accountable to that. So I feel like there is some of that, like, ‘how much of this information was purposefully withheld?’ But, yeah, it’s yet to be determined how that all worked out.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: I know it’s very fresh and in some ways nowhere near done, but as you’re looking back on the experience of this campaign, was there a moment that felt like you could feel things shift?


Homayra Yusufi: I can tell you that every single time we came to a vote, there was that fear that this wouldn’t get passed. I think there’s always that concern because you don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, you don’t know what conversations are happening. We are not the elected officials, right? We are the ones who are advocating for change, so we’re never sure what’s happening. But we were hoping for a unanimous vote; we had had so many conversations with every single council member, trying to answer questions, but we definitely had some council members who were pushing back, who wanted different kinds of amendments, and we had issues with our city attorney since the beginning of this. So we were concerned about it but I think just recognizing the amount of support we got right from our very first press conference that we did and recognizing how everyone was like, “Wow, we need to change this. Something needs to happen.” From then, we knew that we were going to change it and we weren’t going to give up. Our coalition was determined enough that until we saw some change we were not gonna let up. And I think that that’s the strength of any coalition; that you can build it out for the long term, because, again, if we pass this and then we just go back to our daily lives and go on to all of the other issues that are affecting our communities, we understand that it’ll continue to be the status quo and the advisory board and the measures put in place—they won’t actually do anything. So, really, the only way we’re actually going to see that change long term is if we continue to stay engaged.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Has this become part of the purview of the organization that you work for now?


Homayra Yusufi: For me, yes, definitely. Passing this ordinance was my priority over the past year, personally. I have a lot of other things I actually do for my job as well, so this definitely was the weekends, this was a lot of nights working. Most of the folks who are actually really involved with this, this is not what they did for their day job, per se, but this is something that they felt very, very connected to. And so for PANA, however, this is going to continue to be part of our work. We want to see the implementation of it and we really want to build it out. There are other issues as it relates to AMMSA communities and surveillance that we want to tackle and we’re hoping to use this as a springing off point from there.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Can you tell me about the vision for the future and what this leads to for you?


Homayra Yusufi: I mean, we’re building it out right now. Like I mentioned earlier, we understand the implications of surveillance, be it the state apparatus, be it informants in the mosque, be it the technologies that are around us that are surveilling us. We see what the implications are. We see the criminalization that happens, we see our folks getting stopped at the border. Last night at 10pm, I got a call from my organizer telling me that there was a refugee with a green card that was being held for the second time in two weeks by CBP and was not being let go and I would have to call CBP at 10:30 at night to try to get him released. We see those things happening in our communities. We see the fear that it creates, we see all of those things. But to understand the apparatus better and to understand what the points of advocacy could be, is, I think, the area of research that we are in right now. Understanding things like the Joint Terrorism Task Force, where our law enforcement is working basically as FBI agents and not following local or state laws when they do so. The funding that they’re receiving from these federal agencies that they then use to surveil our communities without any public processes put into place—those are all of the things that we’re trying to get a better understanding of and hopefully work towards changing either at the county level or at the state level, as well as our national partners with this new administration and calling for the Biden and Harris administration to make some of these changes that are long overdue.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Have you found a receptive audience at the state level in California?


Homayra Yusufi: Yeah, I mean, last year around the Joint Terrorism Task Force, we co-sponsored a bill with Assembly member Bonta around putting some of these reporting and transparency measures in place around the Joint Terrorism Task Force. That, unfortunately, got cut off short because of the priority of COVID-19 and basically the legislature deciding not to prioritize anything else for the last legislative session. But that continues to be a priority for us, as well as these facial recognition technologies and things like that, so we’re in conversations with ACLU of California and other statewide partners about what potential state legislation could look like in the coming year.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: If you had a song that would describe that vision or that embodies that vision, what would it be?


Homayra Yusufi: I wish I was that creative (laughs). I don’t know. It’s not a song, but I feel like we put a lot of thought into what is a coalition name that would embody our vision, like, are we the “Anti-surveillance Coalition?” Are we the “Stop Spying Coalition?” There’s so many cool names folks have used throughout the country [laughs]. And we landed on this really long name but it was very much what we wanted. It’s the Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology—TRUST—Coalition, and I think that that really embodies what our vision is for this: transparency and responsible use. And it’s what we envision for the world and what we envision for these technologies.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Is there anything that I haven’t brought up that you wanted to touch on, or that you feel like is really pertinent to your experience in this campaign?


Homayra Yusufi: As we’re talking about surveillance technologies, I think it’s really interesting to look at what has normalized to them. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, in terms of how in this country we have used this issue of national security as a way to legitimize everything—all kinds of surveillance technologies—and so I feel like we as advocates need to figure out how we push back against that narrative and how we build out that narrative around trust and that trust is really the way in which you deal with national security concerns. That’s the way that you deal with all of those things, right? And so that it’s not this sense of, “Oh, well, we’re just going to continue to surveil and get more data,” and where private companies created this huge market and that there doesn’t need to be any limitation when you look at those issues because, “We don’t trust them. We can’t trust those communities, be they Black, brown, Muslim, whatever, so therefore, we need to surveil them.” And so I think, for me, our battle is really a battle around narrative building and I think that that’s something that I’ve been personally just thinking through a lot as how we how we continue to tell these stories and how we continue to make these changes.


Lexi Spencer-Notabartolo: Thank you for your time.