Chicago Tried To Justify Not Informing ACLU Of Social Media Monitoring Partner By Saying ACLU Is Really Mean

from the the-chicago-way dept

My home city of Chicago has built quite a reputation for itself to date. It wouldn't be entirely unfair to suggest that the city's government is run by very silly people who think its citizens are quite stupid, while also managing to build something of a kleptocracy centered around professional corruption. With any such hilariously corrupt institutions, the corruption itself is only half the frustration. The other half is the way the Chicago government thumbs its nose at virtually everyone, so secure is it in its knowledge that its corruption will never result in any serious penalty.

An example of this can be found in the way the city government responded to an ACLU FOIA request to disclose the vendor Chicago is using to monitor the social media accounts of its own citizens. If you're thinking that such a program sounds dystopian, welcome to Chicago. If you're thinking there's no way that the city should be able to hide that information from its citizens and that it was obviously disclosed publicly somewhere, welcome to Chicago. And if you thought that a FOIA request must surely be all that it would take to get this information to the public, well, you know the rest.

The ACLU of Illinois today called for an end to an invasive program that allows Chicago police to monitor the social media accounts of the City’s residents. The call comes after the City finally released records Wednesday revealing the name of the spying software that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has used to covertly monitor Chicagoans’ social media profiles.

The release was through litigation filed by the ACLU last June in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to force the City to produce documents in response to a January 2018 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The ACLU was represented by Louis A. Klapp at Quarles & Brady LLP in this request. Previously, CPD acknowledged that it spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on social media monitoring software, but refused to provide the name of the software company.

Now, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a platform to monitor the social media activity of its own citizens is bad enough on its own. After all, this isn't the first go around with Chicago doing this very thing. In 2014, Chicago contracted with a different company, Geofeedia, to do exactly this sort of social media monitoring. After the ACLU learned of that relationship and disclosed that Geofeedia marketing materials targeted "activists" and "unions" as "overt threats" for which its platform should be used for monitoring, the reaction of the public was severe enough that many social media sites simply disallowed Geofeedia access from their platforms, rendering them useless to Chicago government.

In fact, it was that very occurrence that Chicago used to justify hiding its vendor relationship from the ACLU currently.

Social media sites then subsequently cut off Geofeedia’s access to their users’ data. The City claimed that this public reaction justified hiding future vendors from public view.

What the ACLU was able to get out of the city is that it used another company, Dunami, for surveillance through 2018. The ACLU has filed another FOIA request to get any information on a current contract, if one exists. Meanwhile, the above reasoning -- that Chicago should shield the vendor it uses to monitor the social media habits of its own citizens because the last time the ACLU got that info people didn't like it -- is the kind of reasoning only the most brazenly corrupt regimes could possibly make.

Filed Under: chicago, chicago police department, foia, social media, social media monitoring
Companies: aclu


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Mar 2019 @ 10:00am

    Re:

    might result in someone reading it or using it in a way that might not be benign interest.

    Where is exactly is the line? Clearly you believe that posts on social media are "out there to be read," but there're a lot of things that are available to those willing to put in the effort. For example, no matter how much you don't use social media, other people do. Is it reasonable to not interact with anyone who uses social media? Or perhaps to inform everyone around you to be careful not to include you in their posts?

    We could take a step back. Going to a club is inherently a social activity. You are there to be seen, in much the same way social media is there to be read. Is it reasonable for the police to track all activity in and around clubs?

    Or another step, the entire point of attending a political rally or protest is to be seen and heard. There is quite literally no other reason to attend such an event. Is it reasonable for police to track everyone who attends such events?

    Another step, it is obvious to everyone attending a sporting event (or comic con, etc.) that there are many, many cameras present and that (in all likelihood), at least one of those cameras is pointing at you at any given time. Is it reasonable for police to track everyone at those events?

    Another step, it's clear to everyone walking around in cities that there are a lot of cameras around. Is it reasonable for police to track everyone in a city whenever they are outside?

    Another step, it's clear to people that cell phones have fairly sophisticated location measurements, and often can track people reasonably accurately within buildings. Is it reasonable for police to track everyone carrying a phone around inside of a building?

    Another step, it's clear to everyone who drives that traffic cameras are pretty common. Is it reasonable for police to track all vehicles on the road?

    All of these (and many more which I'm too lazy to write out) are situations in which either 1) people do them specifically to be seen/heard or 2) situations in which only "stupid people" would not realize they could be seen/heard. And yet, combined, these specific situations allow what is essentially 24/7 surveillance of most of the US population.


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