Activists sue DC police over its surveillance of social media

A joint lawsuit has been filed against D.C. police by activists who hope to uncover its surveillance practices and techniques on social media.

The two groups, the Brennan Center for Justice and Data for Black Lives, said in a release Wednesday that the lawsuit aims to improve transparency and accountability of police use of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites. They are also looking into the online surveillance efforts of police departments in four other major cities, including Baltimore.

According to the lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court, the organizations are seeking the court’s backing for their public records requests on how D.C. police gather online information on people, groups and their activities.

One of the principal concerns is whether police create social media accounts to connect with people and groups without identifying themselves as law enforcement.

Rachel Levinson-Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice said in a statement that the tactics used by police should be known and be debated in public.

“We also have a real concern that, as with many or most police surveillance tools and use of police power generally, it’s going to be deployed disproportionately against communities of color, both in terms of activists of color, but also even in the context of criminal investigations,” Levinson-Waldman said.

The joint lawsuit is the second legal challenge to the Metropolitan Police Department in two months.

In early February, a D.C. public defender filed a federal lawsuit alleging that D.C. police maintained a watch list of journalists and advocates, whose freedom of information requests were hindered because they were thought to have the potential to embarrassing to the department.

WTOP has reached out to the Brennan Center for Justice for additional details about the lawsuit and D.C. police on their response.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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