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Operation Safety Net: Minnesota’s sophisticated surveillance system

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Operation Safety Net, a surveillance program set up to maintain public order during Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd seems to have grown far beyond its originally intended scope to now include tools to wipe social media accounts, track cell phones and collect pictures of people’s faces, MIT Technology Review reports.

The program was supposed to shut down once the trial concluded. OSN’s website was taken down on January 19 and they haven’t tweeted, posted on Facebook or held a press conference since Chauvin’s guilty verdict in April 2021. At that time, officials reported that the program was being “ramped down”.

However. according to documents obtained via public records requests the program continued long after the trial was concluded and the police exploited it to spy on individuals who weren’t suspected of any criminal activity.

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A safety net, but for whom?

According to emails obtained and reviewed as part of MIT Technology Review’s investigation, OSN is still going, being referred to as ‘OSN 2.0’ internally and is working on secretive surveillance programs, new technology vendors. several watchlists and other previously unreported information. 

OSN also used a real-time data-sharing tool called Intrepid Response allowing for quick data sharing including photos, videos, ad geolocations of team members and targets between SWAT teams in the field and the central command. Members of the press who were around at the time covering protests in Brooklyn Center were detained and photographed. These photos were later shared using Intrepid Response. 

Agencies participating in OSN also had access to other surveillance tools, including a facial recognition tool from the controversial Clearview AI. Additionally, they had license plate readers, cell-site simulators, drones and extensive social media profiling was also used. 

A central planning site for OSN was the Strategic Information Center or the SIC, which also served as an intelligence analysis hub for the Minneapolis Police Department. This facility is plugged into citywide camera feeds and data sharing systems and was often used by OSN leaders coordinated field operations as well as intelligence work. 

The investigation also reveals a clear and significant involvement of federal agencies in OSN. Four FBI agents were included in the executive team of operation as well as two more on the intelligence team. Federal agents were also deployed to multiple cities during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

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Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here: