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SPD denies it used social media surveillance to target activists

The ACLU of California raised concerns this week that the social media tracker called Geofeedia can be used to target activists of color. Based on those concerns, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have scaled back what data they give Geofeedia.

Seattle’s City Council recently learned that the Seattle Police Department purchased the software two years ago without the council’s approval.

Seattle police officials have revealed few details on how they used Geofeedia, but Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole says activist groups were not targeted.

 This week police officials, including Chief Operating Officer Brian Maxey, gave a brief description of the software during a City Council committee, upon questioning from Councilmember Kshama Sawant.

O’Toole says the Department of Homeland Security has produced a list of terms to search for, like gun, kill, and bleed-out.

O’Toole: “So what this does is it will scan open source public media to see if those terms are being used in a particular area."

Geofeedia uses GPS technology to track where posts come from.

O'Toole gave one example of when SPD used the software — before the Seattle Pride Parade. That event came on the heels of the devastating mass shooting at Pulse night-club in Orlando.

The Seattle Police Department has invited a city auditor to look at how police staff used the social media surveillance. The city’s cop-watchdog, Peirce Murphy of the Office of Professional Accountability, has opened his own investigation on the topic.

The SPD says it has stopped using Geofeedia but is now using a different social media tracker called Babel Street.