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.

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