Miami-Dade Police Watched Occupy Miami's Facebook Page For Months Around Eviction

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 apparently came from public Facebook pages, but activists complain that her work was an invasive waste of tax money.

"[It's] ludicrous," says Muhammed Malik, a host of Let's Talk About It radio show and human rights activist who worked with Occupy Miami and who is mentioned in the 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."

Other 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.

Worth noting: 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."

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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