Photography By Anthony Tilghman
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests peaked in 2014 after the murders of two unarmed black men, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The Movement kept gaining ground and erupted again in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder. However, there was something else under the radar that nobody knew until relevant information came out: US Monitoring of Black Lives Matter.
Let’s dig deeper into how the US Government and its law enforcement agencies have been monitoring the BLM throughout the years and what could be done about it.
How the Plot Unraveled
The reports of surveillance first came out during the 2013 Ferguson protests. After a while, some documents, including internal emails and field reports sent to various law enforcement agencies in 2016, were revealed, thanks to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the civil rights group Color of Change (COC) lawsuit.
Naturally, the issue caught the attention of prominent investigative names, such as The Intercept & The Washington Post, which published multiple reports after reviewing the documents and conducting interviews with insiders.
Multiple States & Cities
Since the BLM protests were organized in several States and cities across the country, the law enforcement agencies were also keeping up with their surveillance efforts. Here are some prominent examples of how the State monitored activists and protests at different places.
Surveillance was undergone in different cities and States in various manners. In Portland, the Department of Homeland Security compiled intelligence dossiers on people arrested from BLM protests.
This surveillance included lists of friends, family, and social media associates. DHS leadership went one step ahead and asked the Office of Intelligence & Analysis to create dossiers on everyone. Still, the unit refused, citing a lack of capacity to track everyone. Moreover, under FBI Surveillance, several agents infiltrated the protests to capture clandestine videos.
2. Cookeville, Tennessee
Cookeville, Tennessee, is another place where the Government’s social media surveillance was in full swing during the 2020 protests. Law enforcement officials showed up at the homes and workplaces of people who planned BLM protestors on Facebook. One student was inquired about her plans to provide transport to and from the rally, while another was also questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) terrorism task force.
3. Memphis, Tennessee
Fake Facebook accounts were created in Memphis to infiltrate the network of civic activists. The Memphis Police Department created at least one fake Facebook profile to add activists to their friend list and gather information from what they had shared both publicly and privately.
Similarly, Police monitored non-public posts shared by activists and collected information about people who liked them.
4. New York
The New York Police Department used facial recognition technology to track BLM protestors. Upon submitting the request under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), the New York Supreme Court Judge ordered the Police to share documents and emails between March 1, 2020, to September 1, 2020, regarding the procurement and usage of facial recognition technology.
What Does the Future Hold?
There is a long history of Government surveillance in the USA against protestors of all kinds. Although the BLM Movement has gained traction and sympathies worldwide, there still needs to be an effort toward ensuring the privacy of activists stays protected and Racial Discrimination is eliminated.
Here are a few things that must be done in this regard:
- A complete ban on facial recognition technology.
- No access to geolocation data without a warrant.
- Ban on access to license plate reader data.
- Restrictions on the use of drones and aircraft for surveillance.
These are all reasonable demands, given the impact of the Movement and the sheer scale of surveillance it has gone through in the past. The undue US Monitoring of Black Lives Matter must end so that it faces no such hurdles in the future.