Update 1/13/2017: the Boston Police Department has officially canceled its plan to acquire social media monitoring software! More here.
The Boston Police Department plans to spend $1.4 million on surveillance software to spy on social media activity. This proposal raises numerous red flags. Among the concerns, the program would chill speech protected by the First Amendment, track people’s associations, and target communities already subjected to extra scrutiny, including Muslims and people of color.
The ACLU of Massachusetts is fighting against this surveillance, which not just harms individuals but impoverishes our entire society. If people think there is a police officer documenting their every Tweet, they may be less likely to engage in the most important political and social debates of our time. That hurts us all. As Technology for Liberty director Kade Crockford points out, "support for gay rights was considered a marginal, radical opinion in the United States within recent memory."
Police surveillance is not just a concern in Massachusetts. The BPD’s proposal comes on the heels of the ACLU of California’s findings that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provided user data access to Geofeedia, a developer of a social media monitoring product marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protestors. As ACLU of Northern California's technology and civil liberties policy attorney Matthew Cagle explained;
"Social media monitoring is spreading fast and is a powerful example of surveillance technology that can disproportionately impact communities of color. Using Geofeedia’s analytics and search capabilities and following the recommendations in their marketing materials, law enforcement in places like Oakland, Denver, and Seattle could easily target neighborhoods where people of color live, monitor hashtags used by activists and allies, or target activist groups as “overt threats.” We know for a fact that in in Oakland and Baltimore, law enforcement has used Geofeedia to monitor protests."
This is not what we want in the Commonwealth. As the state’s largest police force, the BPD sets the tone for policing across Massachusetts and even New England. The ACLU of Massachusetts is proud to be among the leading voices speaking out against this dangerous dragnet spying program, which threatens civil liberties not only in Boston but throughout the state.
On December 13, 2016, the ACLU of Massachusetts and 20 civil rights, civil liberties, religious and community organizations called on Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner William Evans to drop their plan to acquire high-tech social media surveillance software. Learn more.
- December 2016 Coalition letter to Mayor Walsh and Commissioner Evans
- October 2016 Boston Police request for surveillance software proposals
- WBUR: What Police Surveillance Of Social Media Could Mean For You
- Boston Herald: Crockford: Civil liberties at issue if cops monitor social media
- WBUR: Groups Call On Boston Police To Drop Social Media Monitoring Plan
- Washington Times: Civil rights groups oppose city plan to monitor social media
- NECN: Civil Rights Groups Urge Boston to Abandon Social Media Monitoring Proposal
- WCVB: Civil rights groups oppose Boston's plan to monitor social media
- Boston Herald: Groups call for Boston to drop social media monitoring bid
- Boston Globe: Civil rights groups ask Boston officials to drop social media monitoring program
- Boston Globe: Surveillance is everywhere now
- WGBH’s Boston Public Radio: What Will BPD’s Surveillance Software Mean For Civil Liberties?
- Bloomberg Radio: Boston Police Invests in Social Media Spy Software
- Boston Herald: Boston council seeks clarity from police on just ‘who is being monitored’
- NECN: Liberty Concerns With BPD Social Monitoring
- WBUR: Boston Police Plan To Buy Social Media Monitoring Software Draws Criticism
- Boston Globe: Boston police delay program to monitor social media
- WGBH’s Greater Boston: Social Media Surveillance
- The Washington Post: The Boston police department wants to get into the social media surveillance game
- The Wall Street Journal: Boston Police Plan to Monitor Internet for Threats Draws Criticism
- WGBH’s The Scrum: Illuminating The Boston Police Department’s Push To Monitor Social Media
- Boston Globe: Boston police set to buy social media monitoring software
- Boston Herald: Tracking social media tracking
- Fox25: BPD considering purchase of social media monitoring technology