(TMU) – As the United States continues to experience unrest following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Andres Guardado, and dozens of others in the past month, the anger over police brutality and racism continues to remain palpable across the country.
And with protests continuing across the country and the world, hacktivist group Anonymous has published hundreds of thousands of files online that it claims were leaked from over 200 federal and local law enforcement offices across the country.
Dubbed “BlueLeaks,” the data dump includes everything from internal memos to emails, officers’ personal information, and other information. WIRED reports that the massive “megatrove” of documents was obtained by Anonymous and published by the DDoSecrets collective on Friday, June 19 – the holiday known as Juneteenth that marks the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.
Much of the data that has been leaked purportedly shows how law enforcement agencies including local police and sheriff’s offices as well as the FBI have handled and shared information about recent events underlying the wave of unrest in the U.S., including but not limited to COVID-19, protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, as well as tweets and other social media posts critical of police.
“It’s the largest published hack of American law enforcement agencies,” Emma Best, cofounder of DDOSecrets, told WIRED by text. “It provides the closest inside look at the state, local, and federal agencies tasked with protecting the public, including [the] government response to COVID and the BLM protests.”
Anonymous is generally known for taking aim at those it accuses of misusing and abusing power. It is very hard to pin down the group’s ideology or its size – beyond its tagline, “we are legion.” The group also lacks central leadership, membership criteria, or a public face.
However, Best said that the hacked files were released by a source that self-represented as belonging to the group.
— elijah daniel (@elijahdaniel) June 20, 2020
Following the release of the data trove, supporters of DDOSecrets, Anonymous, and protesters across the world began delving deep into the files, extracting internal communications from departments about their efforts to track protesters and also finding law enforcement discussions about the loose anti-fascist movement Antifa.
According to the digital activists, police even go so far as to describe notorious white supremacists like Richard Spencer as “anti-Antifa” rather than acknowledging that Antifa opposes neo-fascist groups like those Spencer and his supporters belong to.
An unclassified FBI memo to local police departments from late May claimed that “law enforcement supporters’ safety” could be facing danger, citing a pair of tweets about destroying “Blue Lives Matter” merchandise. Another leaked internal memo showed police departments communicating about the types of clothing, signs, and cars belonging to protesters deemed potential threats.
“The underlying attitudes of law enforcement is one of the things I think BlueLeaks documents really well,” Best wrote. “I’ve seen a few comments about it being unlikely to uncover gross police misconduct, but I think those somewhat miss the point or at least equate police misconduct solely with illegal behavior.
“Part of what a lot of the current protests are about is what police do and have done legally.”
The leak appears to be the result of a data breach at Houston-based service provider Netsential, which contracts with state law-enforcement agencies across the country. A memo acquired by security reporter Brian Krebs reveals that hackers compromised the company’s servers before stealing files from the company’s fusion centers, which facilitate sharing between police departments,.
While the documents don’t necessarily blow the lid off of specific cases of officer misconduct or abuse, which also tend to be circulate through the fusion centers, DDOSecrets did their best to remove any information sort of sensitive data such as personally identifiable information, confident banking information, data about crime victims and children, or information regarding private businesses, health care and retired veterans associations.
“Due to the size of the dataset, we probably missed things,” Best admitted. “I wish we could have done more, but I’m pleased with what we did and that we continue to learn.”
As to whether personally identifiable information about specific officers was included, Best feels that those entrusted with ostensibly serving the public should have nothing to fear.
“The potential of the data, especially in the long run and when correlated with other datasets, outweighs any downsides to allowing the public to examine it,” Best wrote.
“The public has an interest in the identities of public servants.”
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