Dispatches from the Security State: How Authorities are Spying on #BlackLivesMatter Protests

Where were you on New Years Day 2012? Sleeping after a long night of parties with friends? Drinking coffee (or alcohol) and enjoying the day off from work?

While you took some time to relax and enjoy some time away from your everyday life, Obama was signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, known as the NDAA. While a version of this bill is signed every year, the 2012 version would become very controversial once the independent media woke up from their holiday slumber. After the signing of the NDAA, civil liberties groups across the country began to press the panic button. Why? Check out this interesting clause in Subtitle D:

Subtitle D—Counterterrorism
SEC. 1021. AFFIRMATION OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN
COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.

(a) IN GENERAL

—Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.

Who were these covered persons?

(b) COVERED PERSONS
—A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred
on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

What was the definition of a force associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban? None given.
How was a belligerent act defined by the 2012 NDAA? It wasn’t.

The vagueness of this bill, which allowed for indefinite detention of those who committed “belligerent acts” against the US, regardless of their citizen status, certainly scared many people. Was our government eroding due process in the sake of “security”? Even if Obama interpreted the act as referring to Islamic militants, what if a future president initiated another Red Scare, portraying leftists as terrorists with ties to ISIS and direct action as belligerent acts against our country?

This is the inherent issue with using vague terms when defining very serious acts which could essentially invoke martial law. But then again, free speech is written into the fabric of our nation, and rallies, marches, and civil disobedience would obviously never be considered as belligerent acts. Protesters are protected and dissent is as patriotic as the bald eagle!

I’m sure many people have believed this in the past and even after Snowden’s revelations, may still have this false idea that speech is protected, and that those who exercise their freedoms won’t be targeted for arrest or spying. These people are obviously mentally disconnected from our nation’s history, where many members of the Black Panthers were murdered and countless lives were destroyed by McCarthyism.

Earlier this year, the New York Times released an in-depth article, accompanied by thousands of documents from an FOIA request, that Fusion Centers around the country spied on Occupy protesters in the Fall of 2011, whether or not they made comments which posed a threat to “national security”.

“In many cases, law enforcement officials appeared to simply assemble or copy lists of protests or related activities, sometimes maintaining tallies of how many people might show up. They also noted appearances by prominent Occupy supporters and advised other officials about what — or whom — to watch for, according to the newly disclosed documents….the files did not show any evidence of phone or email surveillance; instead, much of the material was acquired from social media, publicly disseminated information and reports by police officers or others.”

With the intensification of #BlackLivesMatter protests following the death of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, we once again are confronted with the reality that the U.S. Security State is spying on law-abiding individuals who are attending these actions. Many news outlets including ThinkProgress hint that the NYPD is monitoring social media to identify key activists and planned actions, which isn’t a surprise after Occupy in 2011. While this obviously isn’t illegal, as social media is essentially public data, the targeting of main organizers identified through this surveillance is problematic. One Twitter user @Awkward_Duck, has been planning protests in NYC and is a member of Justice League NYC:

Later that evening, she was pulled out of the crowd by officers and arrested. It gets worse:

For all the problems that exist within the NYPD, gathering intel for protests through social media isn’t really an issue. But targeting someone for arrest, following them, and stalking them outside their home is certainly a different situation. This type of harassment is likely unlawful and once again demonstrates how New York City, as well as the rest of the United States, is transforming into a dystopian police state where all dissenters are being constantly watched.

If this wasn’t scary enough, there seems to be more widespread surveillance taking place in Chicago:

Soon after this tweet was posted, it was uncovered that the Chicago police were using stingray tracking devices at protests. What is a Stingray, you ask?

“Stingrays, also known as ‘cell site simulators’ or ‘IMSI catchers,’ are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information. When used to track a suspect’s cell phone, they also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby.”

The article that this quote was taken from also reveals that eighteen states have these devices, and can use them against crowds of people without any prior consent. With the Stingray, the police could gather the data of anyone in the area as well as hear their phone conversations. There are many serious issues that arise with the usage of these spying devices, including a serious breach of First Amendment rights, the possibility of illegally quelling dissent through scare tactics, and the targeting of prominent activists, to name a few. In fact, the usage of this device has already prompted a lawsuit from protesters who attended these events last week.

Anonymous posted a video, which allegedly contains a recording of a conversation between the agents in the truck and a dispatcher. They notice that a participant of the march is on their phone often, and asks if the StingRay can catch anything.

It seems as if the NSA spying scandal that was spurred through the heroic actions of Edward Snowden is fading from the news cycle. These few instances prove that we need to demand that the issue of state spying stays relevant, because the surveillance techniques of authorities are clearly more aggressive than back in 2011 during Occupy. We need to assert that protesters who march through the streets and chant for justice are treated as citizens, not enemy combatants who are subject to military devices like LRADs. If we don’t speak up now, one day the fears of the 2012 NDAA might be realized, and articles like these will no longer be written.

Stay vigilant. Stay safe.

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