Chicago Police Hand Over Name Of Company Used To Monitor Social Media

Bill Healy/WBEZ
Bill Healy/WBEZ

Chicago Police Hand Over Name Of Company Used To Monitor Social Media

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The city of Chicago on Wednesday identified a company it has used to monitor social media accounts. The disclosure comes as a part of litigation filed against the city by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois which is pushing for more transparency around how the department uses such monitoring technology.

Invoices shared with WBEZ show the department paid almost $1.5 million to use surveillance software called Dunami from 2014 to 2018. The city would not say if Dunami is still being used in 2019 or if there is a new surveillance contractor.

Dunami has been purchased in the past by the FBI and the Department of Defense and helps clients  identify influential figures and map out human networks based on social media activity. It was also used by Chicago Public Schools until 2017, when district officials determined other methods of social media surveillance were more effective and less intrusive.

We’re concerned that we’re just now learning that the (police department) is continuing to use something that was rejected by (the school district),” said Karen Sheley of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The disclosure of Dunami as the provider of social media monitoring used by Chicago police marked the end of a lawsuit filed last June by the ACLU.

After the disclosure, the ACLU called on the Chicago Police Department to suspend its use of social media surveillance until the public is given more information on the program.

According to reporting by WBEZ and ProPublica, a University of Chicago analysis of the use of Dunami’s software in Chicago Public Schools found a significant drop in shootings and other incidents at schools where students’ social media accounts were monitored.

Sheley said the issue is not whether the program is effective, but that the city has withheld information, depriving citizens of the ability to vet the technology, the money it costs and the way the police department uses the information.

We are aware from other cities that this social media monitoring and software can be very invasive. It’s very powerful and it should be fully discussed and made public before it’s ever used,” Sheley said.

A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department declined to comment and did not answer which company the city is currently using to monitor social media accounts.

In one filing, a city attorney argued that turning over more information about the monitoring program “would render it ineffective and harm CPD’s ability to use an effective crime fighting tool.”

In its lawsuit seeking information, the ACLU claimed the department monitored social media accounts for information on protests related to President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The lawsuit states that surveillance of citizens “engaging in nothing more than a peaceful exercise of their First Amendment rights — is an issue of paramount importance in Chicago.”

Sheley said the Dunami software has been used in other cities to spy on protesters. In Wednesday’s disclosure, the city turned over some information about who they are monitoring on social media.

Sheley said they were only given “slices of time” showing some social media monitoring searches done by the department, but not from the time period around Trump’s inauguration.

In an affidavit, a Chicago police officer said the names searched in those “slices of time” were victims of crimes.

But Sheley said there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

“We don’t know what type of crime, whether these were people who had refused to cooperate with law enforcement or what the purpose was in doing the searches,” Sheley said. “We only have a small snapshot of time that they were doing these these searches. We don’t have the full range of it and we don’t have an understanding of everything that the the software is capable of.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice desk. Follow him @pksmid.