The Department of Homeland Security has made it their business to keep tabs on Black Lives Matter activists since the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri following the state-sanctioned killing of Michael Brown, The Intercept reports.
The Intercept obtained “hundreds of documents” through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that detail intensive surveillance that could possibly be in violation protesters First Amendment rights. To seemingly circumvent that charge, the documents frame surveillance BLM protests and actions as “counterterrorism” measures.
Read more below:
The documents, released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination, indicate that the department frequently collects information, including location data, on Black Lives Matter activities from public social media accounts, including on Facebook, Twitter, and Vine, even for events expected to be peaceful. The reports confirm social media surveillance of the protest movement and ostensibly related events in the cities of Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.
They also show the department watching over gatherings that seem benign and even mundane. For example, DHS circulated information on a nationwide series of silent vigils and a DHS-funded agency planned to monitor a funk music parade and a walk to end breast cancer in the nation’s capital.
This sort of information gathering was not confined to Ferguson. A few days after rioting and protests there, a DHS email forwarded another message reporting on the “National Moment of Silence,” nationwide silent vigils planned in response to the shooting. The original email listed the cities with planned vigils and noted that they were being spread on social media with the hashtag #NMOS14. It also mentioned that NYPD’s counterterrorism intelligence organization would be “monitoring the situation.” The DHS email forwarding that information said the data was provided “for your situational awareness.”
S.Y. Lee, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, responded to the problematic revelations in an email to The Intercept, writing: “The Department of Homeland Security fully supports the right of individuals to exercise their First Amendment rights and does not provide resources to monitor any specific planned or spontaneous protest, rally or public gathering. The DHS National Operations Center statutory authority (Section 515 of the Homeland Security Act (6 U.S.C. § 321d(b))) is limited to providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture for the federal government, and for state, local, tribal governments as appropriate, in the event of a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster, and ensures that critical terrorism and disaster-related information reaches government decision-makers.”
Read more at the Intercept.