Police create ‘surveillance state’ with software that scans social media, say critics
An artificial intelligence program designed to analyze social media discussions and alert law enforcement to potential threats is sounding the alarm bells for civil rights defenders.
SocialNet, from Wyoming-based company ShadowDragon, examines data from 120 different platforms, including Facebook and Instagram posts, dating app profiles, Amazon wishlists, Pornhub pages, and the Dark Web, to help authorities to identify people of interest and to map their networks. during investigations, âaccording to The Intercept.
Michigan and Massachusetts police currently lease the software, reports the site, and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has licensed it twice since 2019.
ShadowDragon did not immediately respond to a request for comment and did not release much information about how SocialNet works or the police departments that hired it out.
The Michigan.gov website does not indicate which ridings, if any, are using the program, but the official Massachusetts state site does indicate that SocialNet was allowed this year as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods to comb through. end social data in six regions: Boston, Lawrence, Brockton, Worcester, New Bedford and Springfield.
Michigan Police have also purchased OIMonitor, another ShadowDragon tool, which sends alerts in response to data captured by SocialNet, potentially predicting a crime before it happens, like the movie Minority Report.
However, critics say social media analytics technology is creating a surveillance state that targets minorities.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to voice their political views or to report the police themselves because they fear the police are watching them,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU from Massachusetts, to NBC 10 in Boston. .
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Wyoming-based ShadowDragon’s SocialNet scours data on more than 100 platforms – from Facebook and Instagram posts to Amazon wishlists and Pornhub pages – to help law enforcement find bad actors
âBad guys share too much information online. Use it against them, âthe ShadowDragon website reads.
âLike most of us, criminals enjoy the benefits of online activity and social media. SocialNet captures these digital leads, matches their aliases, and explores their connections in near real time to speed up your investigations and threat analysis. ‘
Nathaniel Mendell, acting US attorney for Massachusetts, told NBC 10 in July that he expected the three-year, $ 147,870 license for SocialNet “to be extremely valuable” to authorities in his state.
âGangs use social media to talk about their differences and to sort their affiliations between who’s in and who’s out,â Mendell said.
Police no longer have to laboriously scour individual accounts looking for clues.
âWhat used to take you a week or a month can now take you a day or a few hours,â Mendell added.
ShadowDragon founder Daniel Clemens told The Intercept that SocialNet has “crawlers that retrieve information from public websites,” searching for key terms and names. âNothing proprietary or private is provided to us by the platform companies. ”
ACLU’s Crockford countered that his results may be too broad and target people based on casual connections or offhand remarks.
Civil rights groups argue that software like SocialNet will monitor and target marginalized communities and those engaged in First Amendment-protected expression
“Our concern is that this will be done and is being done to monitor those engaged in political speech, speech protected by the First Amendment,” Crockford said.
ShadowDragon isn’t the only company working with authorities to monitor social media.
In 2016, Baltimore Police used software from Chicago Geofeedia to monitor and respond to social discussions following protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in custody, The New York Times reported.
According to a 2017 International Association of Chiefs of Police survey, 70% of police departments said they monitor social media for intelligence.
Some are renting social media monitoring software from Israeli data analytics firm Zencity, Wired reported in July.
Zencity says it has built-in privacy safeguards, such as offering only aggregated data and not personal details, and this prevents authorities from following discussions of protests and social justice movements.
ShadowDragon founder Daniel Clemens said SocialNet’s crawlers only “scrape information off public websites” for key terms and names. âNothing proprietary or private is provided to us by the platform companies. Pictured: SocialNet page on ShadowDragon’s website
According to Zencity’s website, it has clients in more than 150 cities in the United States and Israel, including Los Angeles, Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Pittsburgh.
It uses machine learning to analyze conversations on social media, message boards, 311 calls and local news broadcasts, and provides law enforcement with a personalized report on what is being said in the community.
“If they’re going to meet at this place or place, that’s all publicly available information, and anyone can view it for free,” Douglas County, Colorado, Sheriff Tony Spurlock told Wired. uses ZenCity.
Programs like those offered by ZenCity, ShadowDragon and other data monitoring equipment disproportionately target communities of color and “can lead to the arrest of people on the basis of misinterpreted publications and associations,” he said. the Brennan Center, a liberal public policy institute, said in a report.
“Very few police departments that use social media monitoring tools have made public the policies governing their use, increasing the risk of abuse and abuse.”
Rachel Levinson-Waldman and Ãngel DÃaz of the Brennan Center say police should be subject to frequent audits to ensure people are not being targeted based on “race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or the exercise by a person of First Amendment freedoms. . ‘
And the police should be required to hold public hearings and receive local government approval before implementing social media monitoring, the couple said.
Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu is arguing for legislation that would do just that.
âWe have to be ahead and not try to deal with incidents that occur or rights violations after the fact,â Wu told NBC 10.
“We need to know when this will be deployed, what the protections are, who would be involved and who would have the power to push back.”