St. Paul, Minnesota (AFP) – Among the harsh results From the investigation that started after Police kill George Floyd is that Minneapolis police have used secret or fake social media accounts to monitor black individuals and groups even though there is no clear public safety rationale for doing so.
the report Released Wednesday by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights It echoes many earlier discoveries that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies – at times unlawfully – clandestinely surveiled prominent people and communities of color even though they were not involved in any criminal activity.
Total, The investigation found for two years The Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination for at least a decade, including stopping and arresting blacks at a higher rate than whites, more frequent use of force on people of color and a department culture that tolerates racist language.
On social media, she highlighted departmental abuses that emerged in a review that included activity between 2010 and 2020.
The report said officers used “secret or fake” accounts to search for and access the online profiles of black individuals, including an unnamed city council member and an elected official from the state, as well as groups such as the Minneapolis NAACP and Urban League. The activity included friend requests, comments on posts, private messages, and participation in discussions.
“In doing so, the officers pretended to be like-minded individuals and claimed, for example, that they had met the target person at a previous demonstration or protest,” the report said.
The report acknowledged that law enforcement authorities can have legitimate reasons to track social media “if there is a clear investigative purpose to enhance public safety,” and if there are clear procedures and accountability mechanisms in place.
But the Minneapolis police did not meet those criteria, investigators decided, improperly using the accounts “to monitor and engage black individuals, black organizations, and elected officials not associated with criminal activity, without a goal of public safety.”
The report does not include enough detail to support criminal charges against any officers or lawsuits by the individuals targeted, but some observers say it seems likely that the HRD has other information from the investigation that a lawyer could use to try to build it. condition.
Agency spokesman Taylor Putz said the agency has been unable to release any information beyond what is in the report because the case remains open while it works with the city to address the problems it has identified.
Minneapolis police spokesman Howie Padilla said his department was still absorbing the document and declined to comment.
Via Twitter, the Minneapolis NAACP expressed its displeasure with spending years working with police to try to address problems “just for the MPD to continue to obstruct efforts and get around us and keep tabs on us.”
Among the many examples of misconduct outlined in the report, “misuse of social media raises a red flag for all police departments,” said Andrew Ferguson, a professor of law and expert in police technology and surveillance at American University.
“What happens in Minnesota happens in many jurisdictions, because there are very few rules in place and there is no accountability,” Ferguson said. “Police rummage through social media without borders, turning our digital lives into sources of surveillance. It may sound less violent than some other police misconduct, but it is still a violation and a mistake.”
For Diala Shamas, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, what has been revealed are echoes of a secret FBI program from the 1950s to the early 1970s, known as QuintelPro, which conducted illegal surveillance and sabotage against civil rights groups and other organizations, Sow paranoia, mistrust and violence. Targets included Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and many others.
Shamas said police actions in Minneapolis amount to “Cointelpro tactics with a modern twist.”
Law enforcement agencies across the country have been using social media monitoring for years. A 2016 survey conducted by the Urban Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that 70% of departments mined social networks during investigations.
But the rules that govern how they do this are often vague, vague, or not a public matter.
In a study conducted last year in every US jurisdiction with at least 100,000 people, researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice found that only 35 police departments had publicly available policies that somehow addressed the use of social media to gather information. Of these, 15 were languages that place some restrictions on covert or occult activity over the Internet. But many of them were ambiguous or put a low limit on licensing, and simply required supervisor approval.
“I would say that very few, if any, policies have actually given detailed and strict limits on the use of secret accounts,” said Rachel Levinson Waldman, deputy director of the Freedom and National Security Program at the Brennan Center.
She noted that police abuse of social media has been exposed in departments outside Minneapolis.
In Tennessee, a lawsuit brought by the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union revealed the use of secret Facebook accounts by Memphis officers to target black activists and community justice advocates. A federal judge decided that he violated a longstanding consent decree that prevents the department from encroaching on activities protected by the First Amendment.
And in California, the Brennan Center obtained records showing that third-party social media monitoring companies provided their services to the Los Angeles Police Department, including the ability to create confidential accounts for officers. While the city requires approval for some classified online activities, Levinson Waldman said, there are exceptions such as threat assessments that allow officers to avoid real oversight or accountability.
She added that Facebook and its parent company had warned both departments of violating their terms of service. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all have policies that prohibit their data from being used for surveillance, and Facebook’s law enforcement guidelines specifically prohibit fake accounts.
Shamas, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said covert surveillance like that practiced in Minneapolis and elsewhere can have dangerous and frightening effects.
“The idea that you don’t know the person you’re communicating with is an undercover or informant means you’ll be less likely to explore new ideas for strategies and campaigns,” she said, “all things that are important to a democratic society.”
Associated Press reporters Doug Glass in Minneapolis and Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, contributed to this report.