The NBC10 Investigators discovered some police departments have new software at their fingertips, intended to prevent violent crime and gang activity. But civil rights advocates have privacy concerns about how the technology is used.
Police departments in Massachusetts have new software at their fingertips that can search and monitor social media activity, but its rollout is raising concerns among some free speech advocates.
The tool, made by a company called ShadowDragon, searches public information from dozens of social media networks, using digital clues to identify who’s behind online accounts and to visualize networks of suspected “bad actors,” according to the company’s website.
But those search capabilities can also facilitate sweeping digital surveillance, said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. Crockford argues such new technology should be subject to public debate and stronger oversight.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to voice their political opinions or speak out against the police themselves because they fear the police are watching them,” Crockford said.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Nathaniel Mendell told NBC10 Boston the technology will be used to focus on the most violent criminals. He emphasized the software makes it much easier to sift through the vast landscape of what’s already publicly available online.
“I expect it will be extremely valuable,” Mendell said. “What used to take you a week or a month might now take you a day or a few hours.”
The NBC10 Investigators learned about the new search tool in a batch of emails we obtained from the former Boston police commissioner through a public records request.