The commission also recommends that police departments be granted back door access to encrypted cellphones. This would make it easier for the authorities to access the most intimate details of your life. Whom you spend time with, your private messages, your financial information — all of it would be available to the government, along with any hackers who are able to take advantage of the same access point.
“One hopes that recommendations this hostile to privacy and police accountability would not find traction outside the confines of this toxic Commission,” Prof. Christy Lopez of Georgetown Law, a former Justice Department Civil Rights Division attorney who investigated police departments, told me. “But the fact that this administration would even put forward a set of recommendations so antithetical to democratic principles, all in an effort to maintain a policing status quo that the vast majority of Americans agree must be changed, is reprehensible.”
Taken together, the upshot is clear. According to Tracey Meares, a professor at Yale Law School, if the recommendations became law, the consequences should worry all of us. With the support of a sympathetic judge, law enforcement would face a lowered barrier to searching the contents of your phone, or adding photos of you and your friends to a nationwide facial recognition database. If the officer used excessive force in the process of obtaining that phone and claimed qualified immunity as a defense, the federal government would be obligated to regularly affirm their support for that officer’s defense regardless of the evidence.
It’s not a full-fledged surveillance state. But it’s not far off.
To be clear, many of the commission’s recommendations are beyond the ability of any president to implement alone. Congress could refuse to go along, and local governments could use the courts to protect their autonomy. And of course, a judge has halted the commission’s work for now. But the last four years have shown that our institutions and norms are far weaker than many realized. Even with dedicated resistance from inside institutions, legal challenges have been able to slow, but not prevent, the current administration’s cruelty.
In a second Trump administration, these recommendations could become an actionable blueprint for the kind of dystopian policing that many — especially those who have never experienced state violence themselves — thought we could never see in the United States. In November and beyond, everyone who cares about public safety must be ready to stand in the way.
Phillip Atiba Goff is a professor of African-American studies and psychology at Yale University and co-founder and C.E.O. of the Center for Policing Equity.
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