Miami-Dade Police Watched Occupy Miami's Facebook Page for Months

The email went out to a group of Miami-Dade cops February 22, just a couple of weeks after they'd busted up Occupy Miami's downtown encampment. The subject line was in ominous military-speak: "Occupy Miami: Situational Awareness."

Inside, an MDPD Homeland Security detective named Maritza Aschenbrenner passed along her latest intel on the protest movement's plans — a "Jazz Night" at a Kendall bar.

The email is just the most absurd example of the dozens Aschenbrenner compiled during the height of Occupy's movement earlier this year — a series of notes that illustrates how the department's Homeland Security Bureau closely monitored Occupy protesters through Facebook.

All the information Aschenbrenner obtained seems to have come from public Facebook pages, but activists complain that her work was an invasive waste of tax money.

"[It's] ludicrous," says Muhammed Malik, a human rights activist who worked with Occupy Miami and is mentioned in several emails. "We're paying the government to provide essential services, not to invade our privacy and stalk us by trolling our Facebook pages."

But an MDPD spokesman says Facebook is routinely used in investigations. "Even universities are looking at Facebook pages when deciding who to admit," Det. Javier Baez says. "It's just another tool we use to gather information."

The emails came to light through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by photographer Carlos Miller, who was arrested while trying to document MDPD's eviction of Occupy protesters. The emails show that police had also monitored Miller's personal Facebook account and sent out a note with his profile photo before the raid.

That revelation drew a rebuke from the National Press Photographers Association, which called it "troubling."

"These guys are trying to keep our borders safe from terrorists with guns... and they're spending time on my Facebook?" Miller says. "My thing is cameras. I take pictures — that's it."

The emails show that cops watched more than just Miller's page. In the weeks surrounding the raid, Aschenbrenner sent numerous emails about planned protests and meetings and general "Internet chatter" among Occupy members.

Her emails always end with the same disclaimer: that her office "recognizes" First Amendment rights and "only reports on [them] for operational planning in the interest of assuring... safety."

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink