Documents from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination show the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring the Black Lives Matter movement since last year’s protests in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown

The Intercept obtained the documents via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents read that the DHS monitors the Black Lives Matter movement, collecting information, such as location whereabouts, by surveilling public social media accounts on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Vine. Information has been gathered on protests and related events in the following cities: Ferguson, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York.

One example was how a DHS “WatchOps officer” used Twitter and Vine to keep track of the protests and riots in Ferguson and was able to recreate a map of them, which was originally posted by a Redditor. 

But the documents showed how the department has also monitored peaceful and even unrelated events in these cities, specifically in historically black communities. One DHS email forwarded information about the “National Moment of Silence,” a series of planned nationwide vigils in response to Michael Brown’s shooting.

An email from the DHS National Operations Center on April 29th mentions the planned surveillance of a Funk Parade in DC and the Avon-39 Walk to End Breast Cancer by a DHS-funded DC Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency.

The Department of Homeland Security was created after the events of 9/11 to keep watch and prevent other terrorist attacks and other threats.  

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman, S.Y. Lee, wrote to The Intercept in an email: 

“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.”

A legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Baher Azmy, said that “providing situational awareness” just means surveillance, which Azmy thinks is problematic in relation to these legal events. 

“What they call situational awareness is Orwellian speak for watching and intimidation. Over time there’s a serious harm to the associational rights of the protesters and it’s an effective way to chill protest movements. The average person would be less likely to go to a Black Lives Matter protest if the government is monitoring social media, Facebook, and their movements.”

The documents support Azmy as they indicate, despite Lee’s statement, that there was surveillance of planned protests.

One movement organizer, Maurice Mitchell of Blackbird, a group that helps support activism against police violence, said, “It is concerning that the government would be diverting resources towards surveilling citizens who are assembling and expressing their First Amendment rights.” 

Mitchell, like Azmy, also said the monitoring would affect a person’s decision on whether or not they would go to a protest knowing their social media accounts are being watched. 

“Surveillance is a tool of fear. When the police are videotaping you at a protest or pulling you over because you’re a well known activist — all of these techniques are designed to create a chilling effect on people’s organizing. This is no different. The level of surveillance, however, isn’t going to stop us. After all, we organize because our lives depend on it.”

[via The Intercept]