A powerful surveillance program that police used for tracking racially charged protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., relied on special feeds of user data provided by Twitter, Facebook. and Instagram, charges an American Civil Liberties Union blog post reported by the Washington Post. The companies reportedly provided the data, which often includes the locations of users, to Geofeedia, a Chicago-based company that says it analyzes social media posts to deliver surveillance information to 500 law enforcement agencies. Twitter has stopped providing the data after the ACLU complaint, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The social media companies have tried to restrict Geofeedia’s access to the streams of user data in recent weeks after the ACLU discovered them and alerted the companies. The popularity of Geofeedia and similar programs shows how the rise of social media has given governments powerful new ways to monitor crime and civil unrest. Authorities often target such surveillance at minority groups or others seeking to air political grievances publicly, potentially chilling free speech, said the ACLU’s California affiliate, which found Geofeedia’s relationship with social media firms through a public records request of dozens of law enforcement agencies. “These platforms need to be doing more to protect the free speech rights of activists of color and stop facilitating their surveillance by police,” said Nicole Ozer of the ACLU of Southern California.