My story on government surveillance of political protest from In These Times
Canaries in the Data Mines
by Nan Levinson
"We’re going to have a little chat,” the plain-clothed officer said to Susan Barney as he fastened handcuffs around her wrists and led her from the cell at the Boston police station, where she was being held with three other political activists. It was January 2009, and they had been arrested after refusing to move from the lobby of the building that houses the Israeli consulate while taking part in a “die-in” to protest Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
This is odd, Barney thought. She had been arrested for civil disobedience several times and never before had the police wanted to chat.
Barney was led to a small room where the officer joined three other men around a table. They introduced themselves–she remembers someone from the Boston Police Department (BPD) and another from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)–and then began questioning her about her political activities and associations. Barney, schooled in civil disobedience and keenly aware of her rights, turned her back to the table and refused to answer, but not before one of her interrogators said, “I’m sure you recognize us. We come to all your protests.” She didn’t recognize them at the time, but now reports that two of them have shown up regularly at subsequent protests, including Occupy Boston.
The Boston police had not been masking their surveillance of political actions; sometimes they were literally in the face of the protesters with their cameras. Nor was it surprising that the police were feeding information to BRIC, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center, one of 72 state and urban “fusion centers” set up a few years after 9/11 to encourage intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies. But the more Barney and her fellow activists that day–Ridgely Fuller, Richard Hess and Patrick Keaney–thought about it, the more they wondered what happened to those reports of what they considered their constitutionally protected right to dissent.