Chicago Police

Social Media Surveillance by CPD Raises Ire of ACLU

CPD says its social media surveillance tools aren't overly invasive, but the ACLU is questioning that stance

What to Know

  • Chicago police say they are only using publicly-available tools and that they are not "prying into" individuals' accounts
  • The ACLU wants police to stop using the tools until a full public accounting is done of how they're being utilized

The social media networks that consumers use to keep up with their family and friends has become a surveillance tool for the Chicago Police Department, and the ACLU says it wants that practice to stop immediately.

The organization says Chicago police have been less than forthcoming about their use of aggregation companies such as Dunami and Geofeedia, which can comb through vast amounts of data from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many others, and can plot them on a map to look for trends.

“You can find out your connections with other people, when a protest might occur, or people’s political affiliations,” ACLU Illinois’ Police Practices Project Director Karen Sheley said. “It provides a detailed picture of people and groups. It can be very invasive.”

Despite the opposition from the ACLU, Chicago police have expressed their support for the continuing use of such software, crediting recent drops in violent crime to better training, new technology, and tracking publicly-available social media data.

“Any time we have large scale events, it’s always good to see what’s going on out there,” Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.

Chicago police say that social media is especially key to gang enforcement efforts, as Facebook posts have replaced graffiti as the way gangs oven engage each other.

“I want to make this crystal clear: the tools that we utilize in terms of social media are open-sourced public information,” Johnson said. “We are not prying into someone’s personal account.’

Even still, the ACLU says such information can be dangerous in the government’s hands.

“We think they should stop using it until there is a public debate about how they’re using it, what its functions are, and whether it’s overly invasive,” Sheley said.

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