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Documents Reveal Widespread Abuse of Social Media Spying Tools by California Cops

The release of thousands of pages of documents has revealed that California law enforcement have secretly acquired social media monitoring tools that focus on activists. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of California has obtained thousands of pages of documents pertaining to California law enforcement agencies secretly purchasing social media surveillance software. The ACLU of California filed open records requests with 63 police departments, sheriffs, and district attorneys across California and found that at least 20 agencies across California are in possession of social media monitoring tools.

“We found no evidence in the documents of any public notice, debate, community input, or lawmaker vote about use of this invasive surveillance,” the ACLU writes.  “And no agency produced a use policy that would limit how the tools were used and help protect civil rights and civil liberties.”

The ACLU reports that tools like MediaSonar, X1 Social Discovery, and Geofeedia “have been marketed in ways to target protesters.” The records show that Geofeedia’s marketing materials refer to unions and activist groups as “overt threats,” and suggest the product can be used in ways that target activists of color. At least 13 California law enforcement agencies have used or acquired Geofeedia.

This is not the first time the ACLU of California found a police department using social media monitoring to target activists. Earlier this year local activists in Fresno fought the police department over a five-year, $132,000 contract with Intrado Inc., effectively ending funding for the controversial Beware program. Beware was first exposed in January 2016 in a report from the Washington Post which outlined a number of surveillance tools at the Fresno PD’s disposal. The tools are part of Fresno’s Real Time Crime Center, which the Post described as “a cutting-edge $600,000 nerve center” which “has become the model for high-tech policing nationwide. Similar centers have opened in New York, Houston and Seattle over the past decade.”

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