Police in two states are scanning social media posts to ‘identify persons of interest’

Shadowdragon/ Facebook

The Internet, once a wild-West wilderness where anyone could say anything, posing as anyone they wanted to, has increasingly become a place where one’s every move is monitored, recorded and indelibly attached to one’s real-world identity.

In at least two states (that are known about), an artificial intelligence system is scanning social media chatter and transmitting warnings to police of  future criminal activity. Police in Michigan and Massachusetts are now leasing the software, according to The Intercept, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have bought licenses for it twice since 2019.

Police getting involved in potential crimes has obvious problems, since no crime has been committed and no law broken, and civil-rights advocates are understandably concerned.

The program, called SocialNet and created by Wyoming-based software developer ShadowDragon, sifts through data from 120 different platforms to help law enforcement single out “persons of interest” and those to whom they are connected. The platforms being examined include Facebook, Instagram, dating apps, Pornhub, the Dark Web and even wish lists on Amazon.com.

The website Michigan.gov does not say which precincts are using the software, but the official website of the State of Massachusetts reveals that SocialNet was licensed this year to examine social data in Boston, Lawrence, Brockton, Worcester, New Bedford and Springfield.

Interestingly, critics say social media scanning creates a surveillance state that could target minorities (not to mention everyone else).

“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,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, in an interview with Boston’s NBC 10.


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