Revealed: The Orwellian Tools Used By Law Enforcement To Spy On Activists Via Social Media

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By Jake Anderson

Last week, the California ACLU released an alarming report about California law enforcement agencies’ covert use of social media surveillance software. The report compiles records requested of 63 police departments, sheriffs, and district attorneys across the state. The ACLU found over 40% are using the software without any transparency or public disclosure. They also reported law enforcement officers may be using the social media surveillance software in a way that specifically targets activists of color.

The three primary pieces of software cited in the ACLU report are MediaSonar, X1 Social Discovery, and Geofeedia. These tools are marketed to law enforcement agencies as ways to keep track of protesters, particularly protesters and activists of color.

In one email from a Geofeedia representative to the San Diego Sheriff, the software is praised for its ability to aggregate “social media posts from the scene of Ferguson, Missouri.”

Promotional emails sent after the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson and the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore urged law enforcement to take advantage of the tool to “curate” social media posts related to #BlackLivesMatter. Another email urges Los Angeles District Attorney to “join the Baltimore County Police Department” and “stay one step ahead of the rioters.”

Another document obtained from Geofeedia refers to unions and activists as “overt threats.”

The ACLU argues their research makes clear that law enforcement agencies view protesters exercising their constitutional rights as “enemies.”

“The racist implications of social media surveillance technology are not surprising,” writes Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director for the ACLU of Northern California.

We know that when law enforcement gets to conceal the use of surveillance technology, they also get to conceal its misuse. Discriminatory policing that targets communities of color is unacceptable — and secretive, sophisticated surveillance technologies supersize the impact of racial profiling and abuse.

In a statement to the Anti-Media, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) Criminal Defense Staff Attorney, Stephanie Lacambra, said:

Social media monitoring is incredibly troubling for the preservation of individual privacy. I often run into the widespread misperception that ‘because I’m not doing anything wrong’ or ‘I have nothing to hide,’ digital privacy doesn’t concern me. This perspective is troubling because it fails to grasp the power of information in the digital age and its potential for abuse – by law enforcement and others. For example, there are a number of instances where law enforcement has abused its power by prosecuting completely innocent people. Please see our recent post on the consequences of the Calgang database: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/08/demand-california-fix-calgang-its-deeply-flawed-gang-database

The aggregating of discrete data points into one metadata profile that is stored and mined for personal information has the potential to eviscerate the last vestiges of individual privacy. This is why it is so concerning that our laws and courts have not yet recognized the inherent danger in allowing law enforcement such overwhelming access to our social media profiles. The problem with aggregating data of this sort is that the aggregate metadata profile is bound to reveal much more than any one discrete data point would in isolation. For example, checking in on yelp at a particular restaurant on a particular day may not seem all that significant, but if the police can see that you frequently check in to that restaurant on multiple days and cross-reference that against messages or posts that tag other friends within your social network, they can begin to make a case for your association with that person and that person’s social network. This is often how prosecutors will try to prove up gang affiliation.

The ACLU has come out strongly against law enforcement’s digital database of anti-police and anti-government posts. They believe it is a breach of privacy. Moreover, when social media surveillance software is engaged in racial profiling, the transgression increases significantly.

They note, optimistically, that a coalition of national organizations is spearheading a multi-city legislative initiative, Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS). Their goal is to use the legal system to implement stronger local legislation ensuring transparency with the use of this software, as well as limits on how it can be used.

This article (Revealed: The Orwellian Tools Law Enforcement Use to Spy on Activists on Social Media) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email [email protected].

Image Credit: Anthony Freda Art

Also Read:
Documents Reveal Widespread Abuse of Social Media Spying Tools by CA Cops
National Effort Launches to Fight Surveillance State on Local Level


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12 Comments on "Revealed: The Orwellian Tools Used By Law Enforcement To Spy On Activists Via Social Media"

  1. deplorableLittljo | October 1, 2016 at 7:24 am | Reply

    George Sor-ry-os pays a bunch of blacks to chant hatred, whilst taking money from a white guy…blacklives you are a bunch of cowards.
    WHITE LIVES MATTER (not Soros tho or any of the unholy tribe).

  2. ’40 acres and a mule’….You’re still oppressing them! Also, no one wants to talk about the carpet baggers who did steal the land that some of them did receive, or who they were.

  3. If you’re not marching to Washington DC and protesting in front of the White House, you’re not an activist.

    • Wow, I’ve been saying that all along… but Occupy Wall Street thought camping out in Oakland and completely ruining that City was good strategy. I always thought they needed to camp out on Pennsylvania Avenue!

      • Camping out on Pennsylvania Avenue is a great idea. Occupy Wall Street, which started out peaceful and with legitimate protests, were quickly infiltrated by the disruptive minions of the establishment. Right from the beginning, the original protesters began complaining that while they kept on issue and cleaned up after themselves, there were people who were violently vocal, deliberately trashed their space, and were the same faces in the media found at other Occupy sites. It’s not a conspiracy if it’s a fact.

        • I am aware of this. it’s been happening for a long time. the infiltration of rebellion by intelligence agencies. my son had a friend who was in Occupy Wall Street and the movement changed fast due to the infiltration of squirrelly characters. same thing happened with the anti war movement in the 60s.

          • Oh yes, I’m sure you are aware of this. Yes, the 60’s gave birth to the left of today.

  4. Bring it on Bathhouse Barry and all your communist alphabet agencies!

  5. …the killing of Freddie Gray? Someone deliberately killed him? A bit of bias by author? And the non-indictment of Darren Wilson subtly implying he should have been indicted. Grab an officer’s gun, be prepared for consequences. Not every shooting of a BM by a police officer is an evil perpetrated on some innocent, so let’s be honest. Okay, having got that off my chest , social media such as Facebook was created by CIA funds so user beware. Free speech in America? We haven’t had that in a long time.

  6. Great share Mr. Wise Bus Driver Bill. You need to run for president !

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