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Recent revelations about private companies tracking and monetizing our location data have rightly triggered bipartisan alarm. Concern that the United States could become like China, where the government increasingly tracks citizens’ every move, is growing. According to a recently published New York Times investigation into smartphone tracking, “Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day.”

But all the news coverage of a potential surveillance state consistently leaves out one key fact: our government does track the precise location of thousands of Americans 24 hours a day—but few are rising up in outrage. Citizens and non-U.S. citizens caught in the vast web of our criminal and immigration systems are routinely ordered to wear GPS-equipped ankle monitors that track their location and, increasingly, listen in on their lives. And this surveillance is hardly new or race-neutral—it reflects years of racialized and targeted tracking of historically marginalized groups. While Harvey Weinstein’s missteps with electronic monitoring were well-publicized, the vast majority of people on monitors do not look like him and are not treated like him—they are disproportionately poor and people of color. And unlike Weinstein, problems with their monitors land them back in jail.

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