A Discussion with Beryl Lipton, Daniel Schwarz, and Nila Bala

April 17, 2024 

Surveillance is an integral part of jails and prisons. From closed-circuit camera systems to daily counts of the population, strip searches and cell searches, incarcerated people are monitored more closely, more invasively, and more regularly than nearly any other population. Over the last few decades, organizers and policymakers have been working to shift conditions of incarceration while also reducing the footprint of the U.S. carceral system, including by implementing policies to reduce restrictions and incorporate new forms of technology into jails and prisons to improve connection to the outside world. Educational opportunities and programming in jails and prisons have been shown to have promising effects on reducing future criminal system contact and preparing people to return to their communities. But while the introduction of tablets, phone calls, and other wearable tech may have benefits including more availability of educational modules and more family contact, it also invites more opportunities for profiteering and surveillance—including using jails and prisons as sites of experimentation by corporate interests before wider disbursement of technology to law enforcement. And these kinds of technologies may come with additional policies of surveillance: for example, the introduction of e-messaging or digital mail may coincide with policies that obstruct access to physical mail. 


Nila BalaNila Bala joined the faculty at UC Davis School of Law in 2023. Her research focuses on children’s rights and the criminal justice system, as well as emerging technologies. At King Hall, she teaches Evidence and Children and the Law. Her recent scholarship has appeared or is forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review, Boston College Law Review, the Federal Sentencing Reporter, Duke Law and Technology Review, and the New York University Review for Law & Social Change, among other journals. Her essays for broader audiences have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Slate, Newsweek, and elsewhere. Before entering law teaching, she was the Director of Legislative Initiatives and a Senior Attorney at the Policing Project at New York University School of Law. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of Criminal Justice Policy at R Street Institute where she led R Street’s criminal justice policy to advance reforms in juvenile and economic justice. Bala previously served as an assistant public defender in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to handling more than 1,000 cases in her tenure, she also helped lead a bail reform project to address problems in the city’s money bail system. Earlier in her career, Bala clerked for Judge Keith P. Ellison of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. She was a recipient of the Yale Public Interest Law Fellow, and she assisted juveniles with sealing their records in Santa Clara County, California. Bala received her bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University, graduating with distinction. She completed her JD at Yale Law School.

Beryl LiptonBeryl Lipton is an Investigative Researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She focuses her work on government transparency, law enforcement surveillance technology, and other uses of technology by government actors. She has extensive experience using Freedom of Information laws and large-scale public records campaigns in her research. At EFF, Beryl supports the Atlas of Surveillance, The Foilies, The Catalog of Carceral Surveillance, among other projects. She enjoys teaching others about the strengths and limitations of public records laws and discussing the potential and real harms of the surveillance state. Prior to her work with EFF in 2020, she spent seven years as a projects editor at MuckRock, where she focused on prison privatization and other public-private partnerships. She is a board member for Spare Change News, the Boston area street newspaper, and contributes to Gannett New York, where she has spearheaded the collection and release of police misconduct records throughout New York state.

Daniel SchwarzDaniel Schwarz is a Privacy and Technology Strategist in the Policy Department of the New York Civil Liberties Union, where he focuses on Algorithmic Accountability and Smart City projects. He is an artist and technologist working on issues of privacy and surveillance. His artistic practice examines control and power structures, state authority, border politics and cartography in connection with the larger surveillance complex. He exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada; the Nevada Museum of Art; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA); the Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York; the Goethe Institute, Washington DC; and the Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles, among many others. Daniel graduated with his M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2015. From 2011 to 2012, he held an artist residency at Fabrica in Italy. Prior he studied computer science and media (BSc) at the HdM Stuttgart, Germany, and the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil.

Moderated by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management.

Links to resources mentioned during the event

The Surveillance, Criminalization, and Punishment  speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and  Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.