A few weeks ago, on Thursday September 13th, 2018, a series of violent explosions and billowing fires tore through Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, Massachusetts. The explosions, which have since been connected to gas line problems, have impacted at least 8,000 people and left one person dead.
In the first few, hectic hours after the explosions rocked the region on September 13th, the Massachusetts State Police official Twitter account posted a Tweet…
Accompanying the Tweet was an image of a map on a computer screen, showing locations of “confirmed fires and explosions.” Also visible in the image of the computer screen were bookmarks in a Google Chrome web browser.
Almost immediately, people on social media began to point to something disturbing about the image: the bookmarks on the Massachusetts State Police computer appeared to link to certain progressive organizing and activist groups in Central Massachusetts. What was meant as an innocent enough disaster response tweet had become damning evidence that law enforcement in Massachusetts continues to engage in questionable surveillance of left-leaning political organizers.
Additionally, the bookmarks bar in the image showed links to “AeryonLive,” which a web search reveals is a surveillance drone company, and “Intel Techniques,” which appears to be this site.
About a half hour after the first tweet was posted, it was deleted and replaced with a second image…
Notably, the second image does not contain the offending bookmarks tab.
The “MSP Watch Center” from which the tweet issued is located within the Commonwealth Fusion Center, one of a network of 79 so-called “fusion centers” in the United States. These state and local police spy centers were established through funding provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice, to promote information sharing among municipal, state and federal law enforcement agencies after 9/11. While they were established under the auspices of fighting terrorism, according to a bipartisan congressional report they haven’t contributed anything meaningful to United States counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.
The State Police tweet provides the most recent evidence that this ugly history has extended into the present.
Surveillance of activist groups in Massachusetts is not new. In early-2018, the ACLU of Massachusetts released a report showing that between 2014 and 2016, the Boston Police Department used a social media surveillance system called Geofeedia to monitor individuals expressing constitutionally protected free speech on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The records we disclosed revealed the police were monitoring hashtags such as “#MuslimLivesMatter” and “#BlackLivesMatter.” The cops’ social media surveillance software even caught a Thanksgiving day Facebook post from former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson. Back in 2015, reporting revealed that the State Police were monitoring social media accounts associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The best disinfectant is sunlight, which is why we filed this public records request seeking more information about the types of websites visited by State Police employees assigned to the fusion center. We look forward to reading their response, and to more scrutiny of law enforcement surveillance in the Commonwealth.