Police Chief Tries To Blame Newspaper Shooting On The Loss Of Social Media Monitoring Tool, But It Doesn't Add Up

from the please-show-your-work dept

The first response to a tragedy by many public officials is to capitalize on it. That’s what the Anne Arundel County police are doing in the aftermath of the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper that left five journalists dead. Police Chief William Kampf seems to believe this could have been prevented if the department hadn’t been locked out of its social media snooping tool. (h/t WarOnPrivacy)

The acting police chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department said a controversial tool could’ve helped investigators track down the Capital Gazette gunman before his deadly rampage.

Geofeedia is a social media intelligence tool that helps identify a user’s location based on where they post to their social media account. Acting police chief William Kampf said his department lost access to the tool, which has limited their abilities to track individuals like suspected gunman Jarrod Ramos.

I don’t think Chief Kampf is lying. But he is wrong. Very wrong. And he should have gathered all the facts before using a shooting in his town to complain about this loss of access. At the very least, he perhaps should have demonstrated Geofeedia’s crimefighting value using other cases in which something was actually prevented. But nothing was presented — not even Kampf’s ability to fully apprise himself of the situation before opening his mouth.

Geofeedia’s social media monitoring service was a big hit with both local and federal government agencies. Documents obtained by the ACLU showed the company marketed the software with a “stay ahead of the rioters” tagline in the wake of Ferguson protests. This implicitly encouraged the monitoring of First Amendment-protected activities since the dividing line between “riot” and “protest” is sometimes nothing more than law enforcement’s response to the situation.

Once these documents were made public, Facebook and Twitter revoked Geofeedia’s access to their respective firehoses. This drastically limited the usefulness of the tool. This appears to be what Chief Kampf is referring to when he says his department “lost access.” This cutoff happened in October of 2016. This cutoff date makes the chief’s assertions about Geofeedia’s usefulness highly suspect. By the time the cutoff happened, there would have been nothing to monitor.

Since Nov. 20, 2011, [the shooter] mentioned in tweets @ethartley or his last name 107 times, Marquardt by name or as “Evil Tom” nearly 100 times and @capgaznews more than 50 times, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

The account regularly attacked the newspaper and its journalists, including a reference to the deadly shooting at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

It had been dormant since January 2016.

Even if Geofeedia hadn’t lost its API access, the monitoring tool would have done nothing to warn the police about the shooter’s activities or plans. Social media monitoring software is useless when targets aren’t using social media.

It’s also unclear why the police would have continued to monitor a dormant account belonging to someone it had already investigated and found nothing to arrest him for.

A detective who investigated threats shooting suspect Jarrod Ramos made years ago against The Capital Gazette told the newspaper’s staffers he did not believe Ramos was a threat to them.

The newspaper itself declined the detective’s offer to forward what he had to the State Attorney’s Office to see if it thought there was something criminal about the shooter’s social media activities, but the paper demurred, feeling it would be “a stick in a beehive.”

For this to work out the way Chief Kampf wants us to believe it does, the shooter’s social media account would had to have been active and his posts would have needed to contain enough targeted keywords to make his tweets appear on the PD’s Geofeedia dashboard. Even if all of that were true, the tweets would have needed to be unambiguously threatening to give law enforcement a reason to interact with the shooter again. Nothing stated by the police department in multiple comments indicates the shooter was being monitored with Geofeedia prior to the newspaper bringing its threat/harassment complaints to the police.

There are too many unresolved “ifs” to make Chief Kampf’s complaint plausible. And there is one undeniable fact that makes his claim completely bogus: the account was dormant — invisible to Geofeedia. The tool would not have helped police head off this tragedy before it could occur. Claiming it would have after the fact is nothing more than opportunism.

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Companies: geofeedia, twitter

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Comments on “Police Chief Tries To Blame Newspaper Shooting On The Loss Of Social Media Monitoring Tool, But It Doesn't Add Up”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Blame everyone but yourself

Perhaps, but people change over the years, and the clue to the changes in this person may be related to why the account went dormant. Also, it is possible that the police tipped their hand when talking to him, and that is why the account went dormant, and that may have been the big clue that they missed.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That sounds mighty suspicious there, clearly you are trying to hide some truly heinous criminal activity and must be thoroughly investigated. Don’t worry probable criminal, if you’re truly innocent you’ll have ample opportunity to demonstrate it, maybe even in court.

(I wish I could claim this as sarcasm rather than what I suspect would be the actual response from more than a few officials of various sorts.)

Michael (profile) says:

Oh no! Going dark!

Law enforcement is “going dark” in these times when a criminal can simply stop using social media to prevent them from being tracked.

For the sake of our children, we need the technologists of the world to work with law enforcement and make it possible to track potential criminals wherever they are regardless of whether or not they have any online activity.

While we have no idea how this might actually work, we are certain that there are smart people at Google, Apple, and Facebook that can come up with a solution. It would be unreasonable for them to not work with law enforcement when so much is at stake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh no! Going dark!

We (the corporate Overlords) have come up with a way to satisfy your desire and our wishes.

Since it is too difficult to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, we have decided to use the standard ‘US’ VS ‘THEM’ typically used in politics.

So from this day forward, if you work for the Corps (includes Government as we own them) you are “US” and will be treated slightly better than a slave, however if you are not with us, then you are one of “THEM”. You will be deemed to be in violation of all laws at all times and can be hauled in before the mighty Judge Dread to plead your innocence and receive your sentencing (the adjudication system now works on the guilty until proven innocent method) and you will be expected to provide full documentation and reasoning as to why you are not responsible for what you are being accused of (accusations by Corp members are considered valid until proven false).

I’m sure you would like to welcome your new Corporate Overlords now (this is where you grovel…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh no! Going dark!

I read this,
“For the sake of our children, we need the technologists of the world to work with law enforcement and make it possible to track potential criminals wherever they are regardless of whether or not they have any online activity.”

Then immediately thought of being swatted dropping a deuce in a Starbucks bathroom for not having permission.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Oh no! Going dark!

"we need the technologists of the world to work with law enforcement and make it possible to track potential criminals wherever they are regardless of whether or not they have any online activity"

Or whether or not they have committed a crime, yet. After all, if your not a member of law enforcement, we are all criminals.

The article states that the shooter had behaved in such a way that the police were aware of him, but if he had in fact committed a crime, why was he not in jail already?

That One Guy (profile) says:

"... and don't even get me started on closed windows!"

Putting aside for a moment that pesky fact that the tool he’s defending wouldn’t have done squat in the situation he’s trying to use for his own ends, it seems he’s missing a rather big point, namely why people might object to said tool.

It’s a given that all-encompassing surveillance of anyone and everyone(with exceptions for those rich enough, in the ‘right’ job and/or with the right connections of course) would allow for prevention, discovery and punishment of a whole slew of crimes. It would also utterly destroy privacy and cause a significant chilling of free speech, culture and creativity lest someone say the ‘wrong’ thing.

Similarly, real-time or near real-time(anything thing less would be worthless for prevention) tracking of a person’s location does have the potential to stop particularly stupid criminals. It also provides the potential to track people to a degree that would have previously required someone to physically stalk another person, and that is the sort of thing that people naturally have a problem with.

Just because it’s possible to track people with an increasingly easier time, and just because it’s possible to harvest ever more personal data on people does not mean that it should be seen as acceptable to do so. Perfect safety will never be achieved, but without careful consideration the steps taken towards that mythical state can and will cause more widespread damage than the actions they are meant to prevent.

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