night’s gas emergencythat affected 8,000 people
and in which one person was killed, Massachusetts state police posted to
Twitter a map of responses to fires and explosions.
an image of a computer monitor, showing locations of 39 incidents as
confirmed “by MSP Watch Center”, and it included a vital message:
“Reminder: all residents of Lawrence/Andover/N[orth] Andover who have
Columbia Gas must evacuate, as should anyone else who smells gas.”
image also showed something else: a bookmarks bar at the top of the
browser window which listed several leftwing groups.
bookmarks included a Facebook group for Mass Action Against Police
Brutality (MAAPB); the Coalition to Organize and MobilizeBostonAgainst
Trump (Combat); Facebook 413; Facebook MA Activism; and Resistance
Calendar, which notes timings for canvassing for Democratic or
progressive candidates and anti-Trump rallies.
state police’s official Twitter account shared the image at 6.26pm. Less
than half an hour later it deleted it and shared a new one, which had
But the first tweet had already drawn the attention of activists and
reporters, who shared screenshots and began a social media debate about
online police surveillance.
Watch Center is the information-gatheringCommonwealth
Fusion Center, formed in 2005 to facilitate the “collection,
analysis and dissemination of intelligence relevant to terrorism and
public safety”. There are more than 100 such centers nationwide.
police director of media communications, David Procopio, told the
Guardian police have a “responsibility to know about all large public
gatherings of any type and by any group, regardless of their purpose and
position, for public safety reasons”.
added: “We do not collect information about – nor, frankly, do we care
about – any group’s beliefs or opinions.”
about the organizations bookmarked, the circumstances of the post and
the role of intelligence analysts within MSP, he declined to comment
Arabia, a co-founder of Combat, said: “No one can deny the Massachusetts
state police are surveilling leftwing organizations.”
added that the image on the state police tweet “was both unsurprising
and also a bit scary, because of how intimate it is in a sense to see
your own organization listed in a police browser’s bookmarks”.
pagehad not had a new post since November 2017,
when it shared a post about a gathering for racial justice. Founded
shortly after the election of Donald Trump and in protest against his
policies, the group describes itself as an intersectional coalition of
students, artists and workers “organizing creatively to resist all forms
of oppression”. It has not met for some time.
message to the Guardian, the group’s leadership said: “The fact that
state police, who are funded by our taxpayer dollars, are spending time
monitoring groups on Facebook that opposed racist, sexist, homophobic
and transphobic violence, instead of those groups who perpetuate such
violence, is abhorrent and should be examined under scrutiny.”
group added that it had no plans to reactivate. Nonetheless, former
members were “deeply disconcerted”, it said.
organizer for one of the other bookmarked organizations called for
transparency on who made the post and what kind of surveillance was
being carried out.
Satter is a member of MAAPB, a group that focuses on police-involved
deaths and altercations in communities of color. Launched after the
death of Michael Brown Jr in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, the group
seeks to put political pressure on government to prosecute police
didn’t realize we were such a high priority to state police,” Satter
said. He added that the organization had been aware of past monitoring
because of police presence at public events.
MAAPB has not held any political rallies in more than five months,
Satter said, there were rumblings about responding publicly to the state
was behind this should be denounced,” he said.
of activist groups is not new in Massachusetts, said Kade Crockford,
director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts, who has been tracking the issue
for almost a decade.
was “appalled” but “not surprised” by the tweet, adding that MSPmonitored
Black Lives Matteron social media in 2015
through the same fusion center during a protest in Boston.
ACLU of Massachusetts obtained throughpublic
records requestsdocuments, also reviewed by the
Guardian, that show the Boston police department’s Boston Regional
Intelligence Center, the only other fusion center in the state,useda
social media surveillance system called Geofeedia from 2014 to 2016.
Thousands of social media posts involving activism were assessed. The
ACLU said these were “irrelevant” to law enforcement concerns.
have been made to curtail surveillance of leftwing groups. A 2017 billin
the Massachusetts legislature, “The Fundamental Freedoms Act”,
proposed a prohibition on public agencies collecting information about
first-amendment protected activities and speech. The one allowance would
be reasonable grounds to believe a person had committed a crime. The
legislative session ended on 31 July without the bill passing.
should disclose the groups they’re monitoring,” Crockford said. “I
encourage the … state police to release a list of all organizations’
Facebook pages they monitor for policing large events.”