Police creating 'surveillance state' with software that scans social media, ...

Police creating 'surveillance state' with software that scans social media, ...
Police creating 'surveillance state' with software that scans social media, ...

An artificial intelligence program designed to scan social media chatter and warn law enforcement of potential threats is raising the alarm for civil-rights advocates.

SocialNet, from Wyoming-based outfit ShadowDragon, pores over data from 120 different platforms— including Facebook and Instagram posts, dating app profiles, Amazon wishlists, Pornhub pages and the Dark Web — to help authorities 'identify persons of interest and map out their networks during investigations,' according to The Intercept.  

Police in Michigan and Massachusetts are currently leasing the software, the site reports, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement purchased a license for it twice since 2019. 

ShadowDragon has not publicly released much information on how SocialNet works or which police departments have leased it. 

The Michigan.gov website does not indicate which precincts, if any, are using the program, but the official State of Massachusetts site indicates SocialNet was licensed this year as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods to comb social data in six regions—Boston, Lawrence, Brockton, Worcester, New Bedford and Springfield.  

Michigan police also purchased OIMonitor, another ShadowDragon tool, which sends alerts in response to data captured by SocialNet, potentially predicting a crime before it occurs, akin to the movie, Minority Report.

However, critics say social-media-scanning technology creates a surveillance state that targets minorities.   

'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,' Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, told NBC 10 in Boston.  

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SocialNet from Wyoming-based ShadowDragon scours datat on more than a hundred platforms — from Facebook and Instagram posts to Amazon wishlists and Pornhub pages — to help authorities ferret out bad actors

SocialNet from Wyoming-based ShadowDragon scours datat on more than a hundred platforms — from Facebook and Instagram posts to Amazon wishlists and Pornhub pages — to help authorities ferret out bad actors

'Bad Guys share too much information online. Use it against them,' reads the ShadowDragon website.

'Like most of us, criminals enjoy the benefits of online activities and social networking. SocialNet captures these digital tracks, maps against their aliases, and explores their connections in near-real time to expedite your investigations and threat analysis.' 

Nathaniel Mendell, acting U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, told NBC 10 in July that he expected the three-year, $147,870 license for SocialNet 'will be extremely valuable' to authorities in his state.

'Gangs use social media to talk about their disputes and to sort out their affiliations of who's in and who's out,' Mendell said. 

Now police don't have to laboriously scan through individual accounts looking for clues. 

'What used to take you a week or a month might now take you a day or a few hours,' Mendell added.     

 ShadowDragon founder Daniel Clemens told DailyMail.com that the company's software 'can only be used with publicly available data and can't be used to analyze private data obtained through other means.' 

'We vet every license request

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