In an echo of the bad old days in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the FBI and other law enforcement groups routinely spied on Vietnam War protestors and other groups on the left, the Massachusetts State Police was caught conducting surveillance on progressive political groups this week. The revelation came through a social media post concerning the tragic gas explosions in the Boston suburbs on Thursday, according to Boston NPR affiliate WBUR-FM.
The state police had posted a screenshot on Twitter of the locations of the 39 separate gas explosions that had occurred in the disaster but failed to notice that image included their browser’s bookmark bar. That missed detail showed the public that the police had bookmarked the websites belonging to Massachusetts Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB), the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT), and other activists organizations that presumably weren’t just being consulted by left-leaning officers for their after-work participation in political actions. It also showed a link to The Resistance Calendar, which shares information about upcoming anti-Trump protests in Boston and nationwide.
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The tweet of the image was later deleted and replaced with a cropped image that cut out the incriminating bookmarks, but luckily someone had already saved screenshots of the original post. Activists were outraged to find that police were surreptitiously monitoring their activities.
“I wasn’t surprised — but I was appalled,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the Massachusetts branch of the ACLU. “American law enforcement has, for a very long time, targeted dissidents. A lot of people like to believe those tactics ended. But that’s not true — and actually, after 9/11, they’ve seen a substantial resurgence.”
The ACLU director noted that the state police’s account was taken at the Commonwealth Fusion Center, an information-gathering nerve center set up by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to improve the state’s “ability to fight crime and terrorism by analyzing data from a variety of sources.” Crockford told WBUR that these police intelligence data-gathering centers have done little to prevent terrorist activities.
“But what they have done, unfortunately, is marshal their substantial resources … to keep track of the activities of perfectly law-abiding organizations that are expressing their First Amendment rights to organize and protest,” Crockford said.
State police have not denied bookmarking these pages for monitoring, claiming that they have a responsibility to prepare for “all large, public gatherings.”
“We do not collect information about — nor, frankly, do we care about — any group’s beliefs or opinions,” a spokesperson said in a statement, calling this kind of monitoring “a common – and common-sense – function of any police department.”
While many people may react to the news of this previously undisclosed surveillance with paranoid Orwellian visions of Big Brother, remember that it isn’t paranoia if it’s true. In this case, Big Brother is more than just a reality TV show, it’s the sad reality of what police are doing to law-abiding citizens concerned about the state of our nation under the Trump regime.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.