pushback against law enforcement monitoring of social media continued this week with an open letter from civil rights groups and privacy to the city government of Boston, urging officials to cancel plans to acquire social media analytics software with a seven-figure price tag, which would enable the Boston Police Department to track citizens’ online activity.
The letter, signed by groups including the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Boston Student Advisory Council, states: “We believe it would be unwise and counterproductive for the city to spend $1.4 million for social media surveillance software for use by our police department.”
The groups noted that present good intentions can’t guarantee social media monitoring capabilities won’t be abused later, warning: “We are concerned that social media surveillance software will be unfairly focused on people of color, Muslims, and dissidents – if not today, then under future mayors and different police commissioners.”
In fact, they point out, the Boston police have a track record of doing precisely that: “BPD documents obtained in 2012 through public records requests show that police intelligence officials working for the Boston Regional Intelligence Center compiled dossiers on peaceful activists from groups like Veterans for Peace and Codepink. People were subjected to surveillance on the basis of their First Amendment-protected expression. Their opinions, associations and political ideas were observed and noted, recorded and ‘databanked,’ and may have been shared with other government offices.”
Efforts by law enforcement officials to monitor social media also face pushback from social media platforms themselves. As noted in previous posts, Twitter recently blocked access to user data by a number of social media analytics companies due to concerns over the information being used for police surveillance of protesters.
The list of companies blocked from accessing Twitter user data includes Media Sonar, Geofeedia, and Snaptrends.[“source-smallbiztrends”]