Support Your Local Police
It turns out that a program ostensibly designed to deal with potential unrest following the Derek Chauvin trial was used by police to engage in pervasive and invasive surveillance of civil rights activists and journalists.
Now there’s a surprise, law enforcement abusing their power in order to harass their critics:
Law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have been carrying out a secretive, long-running surveillance program targeting civil rights activists and journalists in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. Run under a consortium known as Operation Safety Net, the program was set up a year ago, ostensibly to maintain public order as Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went on trial for Floyd’s murder. But an investigation by MIT Technology Review reveals that the initiative expanded far beyond its publicly announced scope to include expansive use of tools to scour social media, track cell phones, and amass detailed images of people’s faces.
Documents obtained via public records requests show that the operation persisted long after Chauvin’s trial concluded. What’s more, they show that police used the extensive investigative powers they’d been afforded under the operation to monitor individuals who weren’t suspected of any crime.
Operation Safety Net (OSN) was announced in February 2021, a month before Chauvin’s trial was set to begin. At a press conference also attended by Hennepin County sheriff David Hutchinson, Medaria Arradondo, then Minneapolis’s police chief, described the effort as a unified command that would enable law enforcement officials to mount a regional response in case protests turned violent.
However, according to emails obtained and reviewed as part of our investigation, the operation does appear to be actively ongoing, with regular planning meetings of the executive and intelligence teams — where it has been referred to as “OSN 2.0” — and sharing of intelligence documents. No information about the goals or extent of the new engagement has been publicly disclosed and officials contacted about the program denied it had been formally renewed.
Documents unearthed as part of this investigation shine a light on secretive surveillance programs, new technology vendors, murky supply chains used to arm riot police, and several watch lists, as well as other previously unreported information. Taken together, they reveal how advanced surveillance techniques and technologies employed by the state, sometimes in an extra-legal fashion, have changed the nature of protest in the United States, effectively bringing an end to Americans’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights anonymously in public spaces. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right to anonymous free speech as a core tenet of the First Amendment, particularly when it comes to unpopular speech.
The conclusion here is clear: If you structure the state to give the police what they want without meaningful oversight, you will create a police state.