Here’s How Easy It Is for Cops to Get Your Facebook Data
Police can access everything from “pokes” to private Messenger data — and increasingly do
In mid-September of 2019, Violet, a friend of mine, was jolted awake by a sound every activist dreads: the police door knock. She hoped they would just go away, but the pounding spread across the house. “One of the officers started whacking my roommates’ air conditioning unit with a broom handle,” she recalled.
When she opened the door, Rhode Island State Police officers told her she was under arrest and transported her to the police barracks in Lincoln, Rhode Island for interrogation. She was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly throwing fluids on a white supremacist during the alt-right’s “Resist Marxism” rally in Providence about a year before.
Little did she know, the police had been watching her for weeks prior to the arrest. This was revealed during the court’s discovery process, when the government turned over a file one might expect for a serial killer, not a protester: Hundreds of photos they claimed showed her at the demonstration, drone footage of the protest, call logs, at least one day of home surveillance that documented her and her roommates’ license plates and bumper stickers, and conversations between police and anonymous informants.
The discovery process also revealed a search warrant police sent to Facebook’s Law Enforcement Response Team (LERT), an obscure unit within Facebook that handles law enforcement requests for Facebook and Instagram data.
Without Violet’s consent or knowledge, several weeks prior to her arrest, Facebook had handed over her private Messenger content, GPS location data, billing records, associated cell phones, and friend requests.
Violet said the scope of the surveillance put her in “a total state of paranoia.”
More than 10,000 people have been arrested during the recent Black Lives Matter revolt, and those organizing, marching, or otherwise attending the demonstrations could be similarly subject to such levels of surveillance.
Although this sort of collaboration between Facebook and law enforcement is not common knowledge, the practice isn’t…