Before police engage in new surveillance or monitoring programs, the public should have the opportunity to voice their privacy concerns. The public has an interest in understanding why the police need these programs, and how to ensure this power is not abused. However, it has recently been reported that the Fremont police department has spent more than $20,000 on social media monitoring software without discussing it with the public.
In 2014, the Fremont City Council held a public discussion before approving video cameras and license plate readers. The police department wanted these cameras to fight crime across the city. An online forum provided a description of the program and allowed hundreds of residents to voice their concerns.
“While we recognize there are varying perspectives on this issue,” read a press release, “the city believes the additional use of cameras will enhance public safety in Fremont. However, at the same time, we are sensitive to people's issues of privacy. Community outreach is critical, and we look forward to hearing from community members in the months ahead.”
However, no such public forum was held to discuss the use of social media monitoring software. Over the past year, the Fremont police have spent more than $23,000 to acquire software that allows the police department to monitor social media posts and users. The department signed contracts with Geofeedia and Media Sonar, which provide social media tracking programs.
The Chicago-based company, Geofeedia, says the goal of using their software includes the ability to predict, monitor, and prevent risks involving protests. They identify “overt threats” to include unions and activist groups.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California, of 63 law enforcement agencies they sought records from, 20 had purchased social media monitoring software and none of those agencies had gathered public input on the programs. Other agencies that have acquired the social media surveillance software include the Oakland Police Department, Contra Costa County District Attorney, and California Department of Justice.
Fremont Chief of Police Richard Lucero has said the department does not use the software for surveillance. “We've used this system for things like missing kids, or people with suicide ideation, or school violence and school bullying, gang activity, things like that.”
However, privacy advocates are wary of claims that these tools are not being abused. Matt Cagle, an attorney with the ACLU, has advocated for public input before such programs are undertaken. “Whenever these tools are on the table or up for consideration, it's essential that community members be looped in and given a voice, and a chance to reject these tools.”
At the Gorelick Law Offices, attorney Lynn Gorelick has dedicated her legal career to defending people facing criminal charges. For over 30 years she has successfully defended her clients in the East Bay. If you have been arrested, there is still time to keep the conviction off your record. You do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested. Contact a local East Bay criminal defense attorney who understands the law and will make sure you get the justice you deserve.