Graphic illustration of panelists Charisse Domingo, Marika Pfefferkorn, Muna Musse, and Xavier España. The illustrations are surrounded by quotes from their discussion and depictions of surveillance technology like cameras and an ankle monitor.

Borealis Philanthropy believes in a world where communities have the resources they need to thrive and safety that does not involve policing, surveillance, jails, and prisons. 

On February 22, 2022, Borealis’ Communities Transforming Policing Fund (CTPF) and Spark Justice Fund (SJF)  hosted a dynamic donor-learning event, Divest From E-Carceration: Combating the Expansion of Surveillance Technology and the Carceral State, where we highlighted strategies to address the surveillance, criminalization, and e-carceration of youth and BIPOC communities.

For a timeline on surveillance technologies and additional readings and resources, read our toolkit.

Our speakers included Marika Pfefferkorn, from the Midwest Center for School Transformation, Muna Musse, a police-free schools youth organizer, and Charisse Domingo and Xavier España, of Silicon Valley De-Bug.

Together with our panelists, we explored the history of surveillance technology, shared the work of CTPF and SJF grantee partners who are pushing back against surveillance technology as an “alternative” to policing and incarceration, and highlighted CTPF and SJF grantee partners’ vision for what could be resourced to keep communities safe without policing and incarceration.


Since the late 1960s, local police and courts have been resourced by the government, private benefactors, foundations, and corporations to increase their use of data and surveillance technology with the hope of reforming and improving their practices.  Unfortunately, the result has been the creation and expansion of e-carceration, defined by Challenging E-Carceration, hosted by Media Justice as:

 “the use of technology to deprive people of their liberty…[it] also includes a range of technologies that gather information about our daily lives that can curb our liberty. These technologies include: license plate readers, stingrays, facial recognition software, and metadatabases, which house information gathered from all these sources of surveillance.” 

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice uprisings in 2020 catalyzed by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and unfortunately a number of other Black and Brown community members, once again increased calls to expand the use of surveillance technology. Despite the fact that there is a long history of surveillance technologies disproportionately harming Black and Brown communities. 


In 2020, Muna was a youth leader who successfully advocated for police-free schools. She coordinated online actions, created a recommendation for the school board and marched alongside students from 21 school districts in Minnesota to demand police-free schools. On September 1, 2020, Muna’s school district, Hopkins Public Schools, voted to become police-free.

Watch: Muna shares her experience as a youth organizer around removing police from schools: “So first was the complete termination of police in our schools. So ending the presence of law enforcement, the second to us to have policies in schools reflect and positive factors, not those that are reactive in punitive ones, which are heavily within many schools and work to criminalize youth of color. We also called for the employment of staff trained to ensure positive school climates.”

Marika has successfully co-led campaigns to remove the presence of police in Minneapolis and St. Paul’s schools. However, as Minneapolis public schools were removing police officers, they were expanding the criminalizing state by applying multiple prongs of surveillance technologies into schools.

Watch: Marika shares the challenges of pushing back against expanding carceral surveillance in progressive counties and states: “The unique challenges of pushing back against this expansion of the carecal surveillance state is partially COVID, and partially the ongoing sense of mass school shootings. So in Minneapolis public schools, as in many districts across the country, they have adopted student activity monitoring software, that collects words dropped into an algorithm, flagged sent to a district personnel person and then addressed at the school level as a preventative measure, to be able to flag, if there’s gonna be a student that’s gonna come and shoot up the school, or if there’s bullying happening, they’re interested in finding out if people are having self harm.”


As an organization and community, Silicon Valley De-Bug has been a part of the national movement marching in the streets demanding police accountability for 19 years, supporting families who had lost loved ones to police. Silicon Valley De-Bug uses Participatory Defense as a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and communities to impact the outcomes of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.

Watch: Charisse shares how Silicon Valley De-Bug works with the community in achieving pretrial freedom: “It doesn’t have to be money bail or system supervision. And in, because that third lane that yet has to be explored and really trusted on is the community. And so that has always been the heart of participatory defense. And since, [we’ve]  been developing and experimenting and really pushing on what we call the community release project, where folks, every day, debug folks, their church, people’s churches, their employers show up to court and say, look to the judge at arraignment and say, look, we could support this person, make all their court dates, fight their charges and basically connect them with resources that maybe not have been available before that could allow [them] to be on the outside.”

Surveillance technologies are expanding incarceration beyond jail and prison walls. Rather than sending people off to various facilities or relying on pre-trial detention models like cash bail, the U.S. is  expanding the use of electronic monitoring like ankle monitors, and other forms of surveillance. 

Watch: Xavier shares how e-carceration has impacted him personally: “I wanna say it’s like a gateway drug, like to incarceration, so it’s kind of like desensitizing to you, like, okay, we’re […] gonna let you be out and say you have your freedom, but you can’t go anywhere.”

If our goal is to build healthy, safe and liberated communities, surveillance technology which serves as another form of policing and incarceration is not a worthy investment. We must shift power and resources from police and the carceral state to communities to create a transformative vision of justice without policing, surveillance, jails, and prisons.

We extend deep gratitude to Marika Pfefferkor, Muna Musse, Charisse Doming and Xavier España for sharing their stories and reminding us of philanthropy’s responsibility to serve our communities. 

For a timeline on surveillance technologies and additional readings and resources, read our toolkit.

We encourage you to consider partnering with Borealis Philanthropy so that together we can support grassroots groups working to create a world where communities have the resources they need to thrive and safety that does not involve policing, jails, and prisons. To learn more about partnering with Borealis contact Maya Berkowitz.