Congressional Reps Demand Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Stop Surveilling Protesters

from the yep-I'm-sure-they-were-just-waiting-to-be-told-'stop'-before-stoppin dept

Protests linked to the George Floyd killing are still occurring on a daily basis around the nation. With increased citizen activity comes increased police activity. Apparently, police departments can't handle these protests on their own. In some states, the National Guard has been called in. In others, surveillance tech on loan from federal agencies is being deployed to keep an eyes on protesters.

The DEA apparently doesn't have enough to do during this current civil unrest, so it has asked permission to spy on protests in hopes of catching someone committing federal crimes. No one asked the DEA to do this. It inserted itself into this situation and apparently couldn't even find enough DEA agents to volunteer for its First Amendment incursions. A mixture of 25 volunteers and voluntolds are headed to major cities to keep an eye on stuff completely unrelated to the job of drug law enforcement.

Federal agencies have apparently decided the current situation demands an increase in domestic surveillance. A group of 35 federal legislators want to know why. A letter [PDF] sent to the FBI, DEA, National Guard, and CBP lets these agencies know their overseers aren't exactly impressed with this opportunistic spying. The mini-coalition says the following behavior is unacceptable and possibly inexplicable:

While the job of law enforcement is to protect Americans, limited actions may be necessary if a demonstration turns violent. However, this authority does not grant the agencies you lead to surveil American citizens or collect vast amounts of personal information. Recent press reports indicate that:

• the FBI and National Guard flew RC-26B aircraft equipped with infrared and electro-optical cameras over Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas;

• the FBI may have flown Cessna 560 aircraft equipped with ‘dirtboxes,’ equipment that can collect cell phone location data, over Washington, D.C.;

• the CBP flew Predator drones that collected and disseminated live video feeds over Minneapolis, San Antonio, and Detroit; and

• the DEA was granted broad authority to “conduct covert surveillance” over protesters responding to the death of George Floyd.

That's just the stuff that's been documented by journalists. There's likely other stuff happening too -- stuff that no one's aware of outside of the agencies performing the surveillance. This includes other tech tools agencies use frequently, like Stingray devices, facial recognition software, and license plate readers. All of this being deployed in the general direction of activities protected by the First Amendment isn't the sort of behavior we want to see from agencies sworn to uphold the Constitution.

The letter notes citizens have responded to the government's surveillance by taking steps to protect their communications and data, as is evidenced by the surge in encrypted messaging app downloads during recent days. The Congressional reps say this is the direct result of the government's actions. It's not acceptable for citizens to feel forced to protect themselves from their supposed protectors.

Americans should not have to take proactive measures to protect themselves from government surveillance before engaging in peaceful demonstration. The fact that the agencies you lead have created an environment in which such headlines are common is, in and of itself, an indication of the chilling effect of government surveillance on law-abiding Americans. For these reasons, we demand you cease surveilling peaceful protests immediately and permanently.

We'll see if these agencies are willing to listen to their overseers, since they've proven unwilling to listen to their employers. The full extent of domestic surveillance during the George Floyd protests likely won't be revealed until months or years from now. Some will leak out during prosecution of suspected criminals rounded up during protests and riots. Other stuff will be FOIA'ed. A very small amount of information will be delivered by these agencies to members of Congress in public statements and letters. The rest will stay hidden. Whatever isn't obscured by parallel construction will be hidden under black redaction bars citing handy FOIA exemptions. But it's undeniable: law enforcement agencies are dying to engage in broad, warrantless surveillance. Flareups around the country are giving them the excuse they need to indulge their baser urges.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, cbp, dea, fbi, national guard, protesters, surveillance


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 2:52am

    '... or you'll do what?'

    Yeah, the problem with bluffing is that it only works when the other side has a reason to believe that you are serious with your threat/demand and are both willing and able to follow through if pressed. Take that away and all it results in is you making a fool of yourself as the other side calls you on it and exposes that it was nothing but an empty threat/demand.

    They can demand that the agencies stop spying on the public all they want, and it's certainly better to have public disapproval than not, but I'm pretty sure both they and the agencies involved know that it's a toothless demand at best, and that the most the agencies are likely to face for ignoring them is wasting some time ignoring questions and more angry letters about how they better shape up or else.

    I do see a potential silver lining though(two in fact), in that increased use of encryption will make it harder to spy on the public on a whim, and that same spying is likely to stoke the fires of people who are already angry and potentially lead to even more effort into making it that little bit more difficult for it to be done in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 3:45am

    The entire DOJ should be dismantled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      Ya, that's pretty funny LOOTER. I hope at some point you are caught and thrown into jail for 20 years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 4:10am

    Yellin' at Other People's Kids Not to Play Ball in the Street

    And where exactly does Congress imagine it stands within the command hierarchy of the various LEO agencies of the Executive Branch? Nice way to make yourself look foolish, ignorant, and performative, Congress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Puke Liewalker, 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:24am

      Re: Yellin' at Other People's Kids Not to Play Ball in the Stree

      idk, I used to think congress (aka law makers) wrote laws. But that was a long time ago in a reality far far away.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      lucidrenegade (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:33am

      Re: Yellin' at Other People's Kids Not to Play Ball in the Stree

      It's called congressional oversight, you twat.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 6:49am

      Re: Yellin' at Other People's Kids Not to Play Ball in the Stree

      Power of the purse. Congress controls the money the Executive spends. Not that these 35 can exert that type of control on their own, but with a lot of hard work they might influence some others. Getting past the Senate will be a big problem, at least in its current formulation. That might, however, be different in 6 months or so. Here's hoping.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 9:16am

      Re: Yellin' at Other People's Kids Not to Play Ball in the Stree

      "various LEO agencies of the Executive Branch"

      I too am curious about these unmarked, unidentified, "security" forces that recently appeared out of the mist to defend the white house from the people that government is supposed to "represent". Are these private mercenaries? I was unaware that the white house was authorized to implement their own personal armed forces against the people of this nation.

      Not really sure what your question is ... rhetorical maybe.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 4:25am

    Where do I start?

    unrelated to the job of drug law enforcement.

    And also unrelated to the concept of a free society.

    A group of 35 federal legislators want to know why.

    This tells us a lot about the ≤506 other federal legislators. Granted, maybe the 35 shouldn't have made it a largely performative demand, but rather simply a public statement of outrage.

    this authority does not grant the agencies you lead to surveil American citizens

    This tells us the 35 federal legislators need a proof-reader.

    the surge in encrypted messaging app downloads during recent days.

    This is a great sign! Encryption should be the default!

    It's not acceptable for citizens to feel forced to protect themselves from their supposed protectors.

    Americans should not have to take proactive measures to protect themselves from government surveillance

    Again, this shouldn't be an issue because it should be the norm, just as opaque paper envelopes are the norm..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 4:31am

    They'll stop using drones and return to tried and true methods, planting infiltrators in left wing groups they can use to instigate violence, sabotage popular community outreach programs to justify raids, you know like giving kids free breakfasts, and identify smart, capable people within the leadership they can murder to make the groups implode. Ask the black panthers, they can attest to how effective these tactics can be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MathFox, 16 Jun 2020 @ 4:48am

    Asking for equal rights is subversive?

    Looking at all the action of all the agencies involved it seems that some people in the establishment are panicking about the demand for equal rights (to live) for black people. If that concept is revolutionary to the US, I must start looking for another country or organization to give directions to what freedom should be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:00am

      Re: Asking for equal rights is subversive?

      It has always been conceived as such by the ruling classes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 9:20am

        Re: Re: Asking for equal rights is subversive?

        Yes, but doesn't make it right. They have been blowing smoke up our collective asses for ever - equal justice under the law, equal rights amendment, civil rights, the right to vote, blah, blah, blah - all empty words.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:17am

      Re: Asking for equal rights is subversive?

      "...it seems that some people in the establishment are panicking about the demand for equal rights (to live) for black people. If that concept is revolutionary to the US, I must start looking for another country or organization to give directions to what freedom should be."

      Sadly, it is. It all dates back to the civil war which, although it was indeed fought over slavery, was never fought over equality. Basically the struggle stood between those who thought of black people as property and those who thought of them as simply a lesser race. Even Lincoln, in his most liberal moments, only came to advocate that a black person should be considered about 60% of a white person.

      You could say that it was a war between slavers and white supremacists which the supremacists won.
      And that history is important because almost all the drudge work on actual equality has, essentially, been made in the last 60 years or so.

      So yes, essentially the concept of equality is revolutionary in the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:27am

        Re: Re: Asking for equal rights is subversive?

        Jim Crow never went away, it went dark.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 1:29am

          Re: Re: Re: Asking for equal rights is subversive?

          "Jim Crow never went away, it went dark."

          Why bother with obvious and open legislative bigotry when you have a mos maiorum passed down in which your evaluation as a citizen and human being is inversely proportional to the amount of skin melanophores you have? Or perhaps worse and more insidious by far, explicitly informs you it's a bad societal move to acknowledge the existence of that bias.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Asking for equal rights is subversive?

      Equality feels like oppression to those accustomed to their privileged position.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:54am

    Dismantle the police state

    The FBI considers protesting low level terrorism. Law enforcement has no respect for our rights. Even during a protest about the very tooic they can't resist breaking the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Jun 2020 @ 1:32am

      Re: Dismantle the police state

      And politics aside they'd do that anyway. A bunch of protestors is the low-hanging fruit because it's all too easy to grab an easy collar and build a case around how dangerous those subversives are when you have the tacit approval of the highest authority in the land to do just that.

      Mid-level unscrupulous managers have never been in short supply anywhere. Though it's disheartening every time you see it within law enforcement.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 6:24am

    The FBI considers protesting low level terrorism.

    ... because they prefer high level terrorism?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2020 @ 7:14am

    I hope the police and anyone and everyone else records these people and the crimes they commit and each and every one of them arrested and thrown into jail as soon as they figure out who these people are. Takes time by going just going with a picture or video of whose these people are. Destroying lives of even black people's small businesses. It's pretty disgusting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 16 Jun 2020 @ 10:24am

    "Federal Law Enforcement Agencies"

    …or FLEAs for short.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DeComposer (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 10:47am

    I'm all for defunding the DEA

    Misspent money, redirected to highly questionable activity, all in service to a misguided program.

    Legislators need to take a long, hard look at funding priorities. If drugs are a "problem," interdiction and enforcement have shown themselves to be ineffective, catastrophic failures.

    Maybe this mission creep is the DEA's way of trying to achieve relevance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Upstream (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 11:14am

      Re: I'm all for defunding the DEA

      DEA: "Since we are ineffective and increasingly irrelevant in attacking people's rights less directly via the misguided "war on drugs," let's start attacking people's rights more directly via an expansion of the "war on the First Amendment."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Improbus (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 11:03am

    Who Controls The Budget?

    Congress, that's who. Maybe they should get to work on these agency's budgets and start cutting anything that is not currently needed. There you go, you have a plan Congress. Now, make it happen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tz1 (profile), 16 Jun 2020 @ 12:30pm

    Good tradeoff.

    They are no longer fighting the drug war.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 16 Jun 2020 @ 5:28pm

    Legislators "demand" a lot of things which are expedient for pr purposes at any given time that are outside the scope of their constitutional authority. They are usually pretty silent when it comes to doing things that are within the scope of their authority, like passing laws that reflect the rhetoric of the photo ops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2020 @ 2:05am

    can we give them telescreens

    and be done with this

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ed, 17 Jun 2020 @ 12:07pm

    Happy Problems Have Happy Solutions

    I have to wonder if some of the rioting was actually instigated by the feds in order to create the "necessity" excuse for mass public surveillance. After all, the Trump Crime Family and its erected minions do have a fascist agenda that requires mass public surveillance to succeed. Sadly, due to the secretive and more often criminal nature of the current fascist regime in control of the American Federal Government, we will likely never know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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