Leaked documents raise questions about Austin surveillance operation


Austin police officials monitor activity captured on 42 video cameras downtown and in the Rundberg Lane area in North Austin, inside the Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters in downtown Austin. Information gathered in the High Activity Location Observation program is sometimes shared with the Austin Regional Intelligence Center, which collects information on suspicious activity that may be linked to terrorism or crime.

Last summer, as mass protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing swept the nation, a group of high schoolers in Bee Cave planned a peaceful demonstration with chalk mural drawings along the sidewalk outside City Hall.

The students requested a permit for the demonstration, even if they didn’t need to — the Austin suburb doesn’t require such formalities for exercising First Amendment rights on public property. But the request itself was enough to catch the eye of someone tied to a regional citizen surveillance program run by an anti-terrorism police organization. Unknown to the high schoolers, the event was added to a watchlist and monitored for “agitators.”

Several days earlier, on an overcast Wednesday morning, a man was driving near an Austin police training facility when he was approached by officers who were curious what he was up to. He was only taking pictures of flowers, he told them, pulling out his phone to snap photos of the flora growing along a fence line.

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