by Matt Agorist, Activist Post:
A recent case out of Memphis exposed the trend of fake law enforcement accounts when protesters reacted to the police killing of 19-year-old Darrius Stewart.
A lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Tennessee uncovered evidence that the police used what they referred to as a “Bob Smith” account to gather intelligence on activists.
According to a report out of NBC,
Smith acted as if he supported the protesters, and, slowly, they let him into their online community. Over the next three years, dozens of them accepted his friend requests, allowing him to observe private discussions over marches, rallies and demonstrations. In public postings and private messages he described himself as a far-left Democrat, a “fellow protester” and a “man of color.”
But Smith was not real. He was the creation of a white detective in the Memphis Police Department’s Office of Homeland Security whose job was to keep tabs on local activists across the spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Confederate sympathizers.
The detective, Tim Reynolds, outed himself in August under questioning by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which sued the police department for allegedly violating a 1978 agreement that prohibited police from conducting surveillance of lawful protests. The revelation validated many activists’ distrust of local authorities. It also provided a rare look into the ways American law enforcement operates online, taking advantage of a loosely regulated social media landscape — and citizens’ casual relinquishing of their privacy — to expand monitoring of the public.
“Every high-tech crime unit has one,” said an officer who uses an undercover account to monitor gang members and drug dealers in New Jersey and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid having the account exposed or shut down, according to NBC. “It’s not uncommon, but we don’t like to talk about it too much.”
Facebook has since deactivated six other accounts from the Memphis police department alone. As EFF recently reported, in a letter to Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings dated Sept. 19, Facebook’s legal staff demanded that the Memphis police “cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts or impersonation of others.”
In the letter to the Memphis Police Department, Facebook further writes:
Facebook has made clear that law enforcement authorities are subject to these policies. We regard this activity as a breach of Facebook’s terms and policies, and as such we have disabled the fake accounts that we identified in our investigation.