After a summer of patiently and systematically filing records requests to 63 American law enforcement agencies, the ACLU of Northern California revealed how police have increased their surveillance of social media, without a matching increase in oversight or regulation.
The fallout of the ACLU’s report was immediate for Geofeedia, a venture-backed service that promised “the only patented, location-based social media monitoring, analysis and engagement platform for law enforcement.” In October, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter announced that they had cut off Geofeedia from their feeds:
In November, Geofeedia, which raised $17M in private equity in February 2016, announced layoffs for 31 of its approximately 60 employees.
In a statement obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Geofeedia CEO Phil Harris announced a pivot:
“Following these suspensions, we have decided to scale back our business and focus on a variety of innovations that will allow us to serve our customers and continue our rapid growth trajectory as a leading real-time analytics and alerting platform,” the statement said.
At the time, the Tribune reported that “Geofeedia would not say if it lost clients following the ACLU report”. So I sent a new public records request to the city of San Jose for:
All emails and other correspondence sent and received by the city of San Jose and the San Jose Police Department regarding the financial relationship and contract between the San Jose and Geofeedia, for the dates of October 13, 2016 through December 1st, 2016.
On October 12, the day after the major social media services announce that they would be cutting commercial access of their data to Geofeedia, the San Jose police were already asking whether it is a “viable” product:
Apparently, that’s the end of discussion because the next thread of emails responsive to my request begins on December 8, which includes a series of emails from a poor Geofeedia sales rep trying, since October 23, to get the San Jose police to pay a $25,000 invoice for another year of Geofeedia access.
On Nov. 28, rejection: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3243193-City-of-San-Jose-correspondence-regarding.html#document/p6
One of the coolest things about the ACLU project was how it was done out in the open, with public records being filed
Here’s their request for San Jose: https://www.muckrock.com/foi/san-jose-336/san-jose-pd-social-media-surveillance-23633/