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US POLICE have been accused of spying on Black Lives Matter activists by setting up fake accounts to monitor their private Facebook activity.
According to papers released by the city of Memphis, the bogus social media accounts were used to make friends with activists from the campaign group and then collect details of those who “liked” their posts.
The spying operation was carried out by the Office of Homeland Security, which was established to combat the threat of terrorism in the wake of the September 11 2001 attacks.
The documents were made public after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee filed a lawsuit, following concerns over the monitoring of Black Lives Matter activists.
Memphis police have a history of spying on activists, including trade unionists battling for better pay in the Fight for 15 campaign.
They have been accused of compiling a watch list following a demonstration at the mayor’s home. A number of Black Lives Matter campaigners say police have monitored their homes and workplaces.
In the social media operation, officers set up a fake Facebook account under the name “Bob Smith,” which was used to gather information on activists and their friends.
One police officer admitted tracking the partner of an activist and taking details of groups they were involved in, including trade union and Palestine solidarity organisations.
Included in the released documents was a Power Point presentation marked “confidential” that detailed those who gathered at a vigil in protest at the police shooting of Memphis teenager Darrius Stewart, with the names and faces of those arrested at previous Black Lives Matter demonstrations circulated to police.
The slideshow claimed the activists were using “legitimate public venues” to promote their own agenda with the intention of causing “violence” and damage to property.
The city of Memphis denied that the actions violated the constitution and said in a statement: “No-one has been prevented from exercising their first amendment right to demonstrate, even if the demonstration took place without a permit.”
Memphis police director Michael claimed that monitoring the posts was “simply good police work.”
The ACLU said that the public had a “right to know” about spying operations and that it was committed to “ensuring that Tennesseans are able to fully exercise their free speech rights, free from fear or intimidation.”
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