The Coastal Packet: Maine police may be spying on your social media posts

Tuesday, December 6

Maine police may be spying on your social media posts

Maine Public Broadcasting - Maine police have been using a controversial computer program developed to monitor the public’s social media posts.

The program, known as Geofeedia, works by pinpointing the location of people who are posting publicly on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Geofeedia was developed with financial support from the CIA. As it has gained traction with police who use it to track protests and look for danger signs like the word “gun” online, it has also become the center of a national debate over privacy and government surveillance.

“People don’t realize that the government is monitoring the personal information they share,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “This isn’t just the police standing in a public square. This is the police standing in our bedrooms and living rooms.”

Police say that they are merely listening in on public statements. But privacy and free speech advocates contend that people shouldn’t have to worry about government surveillance when speaking their minds online. Perhaps as a result of such criticism, last month Facebook, Twitter and Instagram cut Geofeedia off from their data.

The South Portland Police Department began using Geofeedia in 2014 and recently renewed its subscription for a third year, said officer Kevin Gerrish, who coordinates the program for Maine’s fourth most populated city. The Maine State Police also purchased a license for the program, according to Gerrish and State Police officer Kyle Willette, although neither could provide details.

But thousands of dollars later, the South Portland police say that, at least for their department, the high-tech surveillance hasn’t led to any arrests.

Geofeedia has cost the South Portland department $13,500, which was mostly paid for through a grant, according to the department.

But the program mostly returns false hits.

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