The California Highway Patrol took its sweet old time finding and releasing hundreds of documents responsive to my public records request in December, for emails sent or received by key patrol communication officials.
Since I lacked the time and resources to engage with the CHP, I turned to Darwin BondGraham of the East Bay Express and asked him to followup and obtain the records responsive to my request. He's pored over lots of emails and has written a terrific story that you should read.
My message to anyone upset over what the CHP and East Bay law enforcement agencies were doing tracking #BlackLivesMatter activists on the streets and online, or interested in obtaining other emails and records, please file a public records request today. We need much more sunshine of law enforcement agencies.
On December 9, 2014, at 4:48 p.m., an internal email with the subject line, "Reminder for Tonight and this week: Do Not Advise Protesters That We Are Following Them on Social Media," circulated among dozens of California Highway Patrol commanders. The message read: "A quick reminder ... as you know, our TLO [Terrorism Liaison Officers] officers are actively following multiple leads over social media." The note continued, "this morning, we found posts detailing protesters' interaction with individual officers last night.
In the posts, protesters are stating that we (CHP) were claiming to follow them on social media. Please have your personnel refrain from such comments; we want to continue tracking the protesters as much as possible. If they believe we are tracking them, they will go silent." In recent years, police agencies throughout the United States have scoured social media as part of criminal investigations. But the police are also watching social media to spy on political protesters, especially those they suspect will engage in acts of civil disobedience. During the recent Black Lives Matter protests, local and state police agents monitored protesters on social media and activist websites. Several hundred CHP emails obtained by the Express show that social media is now a key source of intel for the police when monitoring political protests.
But the emails raise serious questions, say civil libertarians and some of the activists whose posts were harvested as intel. How do police monitor social media? Do they store data or track particular people? Are agencies over-reacting and wasting resources? And why are counter-terrorism police involved? [...]
The emails obtained by the Express from CHP were originally part of a Public Records Act request made by San Francisco resident Michael Petrelis. Petrelis said he asked for the records because he was concerned about CHP's use of less-than-lethal weapons and armed undercover agents.
Petrelis also said he is not surprised to see the extensive monitoring of social media by the police. "I come out of Act Up in NYC," said Petrelis. "The cops came to our meetings and they picked up all the lit. My experience in organizing is that cops are watching you," he continued. "In the Tech Age, you have to always think the cops are reading this."