Seattle City Council member Lorena González is none too pleased about the revelation that Seattle Police illegally acquired social media surveillance software two years ago.
Responding today to The Stranger's story about the software acquisition and its subsequent use, González, who leads police oversight on the council as chair of the Safe Communities Committee, said in a statement that she welcomes the investigation opened by the police department's semi-independent civilian watchdog.
Her statement also mentions the need to reform the city's outdated intelligence ordinance—an issue we highlighted nearly two years ago:
I am disappointed in the Seattle Police Department’s lack of transparency in this matter, and I fully support OPA Director Pierce Murphy’s investigation into how this software was acquired and the circumstances in which it was utilized. I am beyond frustrated that the acquisition and use of this software wasn’t disclosed to Councilmembers.
Over the coming months, my office will be reviewing our current surveillance and intelligence ordinances with the goal of reconciling any gaps in existing policy and city laws. If we have antiquated laws that don’t keep up with quickly-evolving technologies, cloud-based computing, for instance, then I intend to rectify that as quickly as possible.
I remain committed to protecting people’s civil rights, and I intend to utilize the OPA Director’s investigation’s findings and our own staff analyses in ensuring we have modern surveillance and intelligence policies that protect civil liberties while also protecting the safety of the public.
González's office also sent out a statement from Shankar Narayan, Technology and Liberty Project Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington:
The Seattle Police Department’s use of Geofeedia — a powerful social media monitoring software (SMMS) that can use people’s posts on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere for surveillance purposes—raises troubling questions both as to how and why SPD intends to use SMMS and the process by which the software was acquired. SMMS uses complex algorithms that can track people’s location, relationships, networks, and associations, and has been used elsewhere to label unions and activist groups as ‘overt threats.’ SPD’s deployment of Geofeedia software without public notice or process likely violated the Seattle surveillance ordinance and possibly additional statutes. We support Councilmember González’s call for a holistic review, update, and enforcement of our laws to ensure they keep with Seattleites’ repeatedly expressed desire to be free from intrusive government surveillance.