Boston police walk back social media monitoring plan (Photo by Halfpoint/ShutterStock)

Boston police walk back social media monitoring plan

The Boston Police Department is going back to the drawing board to redefine a system that can help it analyze social media content.

In October the BPD released a request for proposals for web-based “technology and services that support the identification, collection, integration, synthesis, analysis, visualization and investigation of threat information present within real-time open source and social media platforms.”

The contract, worth up to $1.4 million, was also intended to distill “specific knowledge concerning threats, hazards and other conditions related to crime and public safety present on the Internet.”

Civil liberties groups objected to the project, voicing concerns about privacy rights, government surveillance, racial profiling and limits on free speech.  The critics also called for an opportunity to weigh in on the department’s social media monitoring policies. 

On Jan. 10, Superintendent Paul Fitzgerald recommended to Commissioner William Evans that the BPD not award a contract to any of the respondents, adding that “the capabilities proposed by the vendors exceed the services that the Department would utilize.” On Jan. 13, Evans formally announced that the department would forego contracting with any vendors and would solicit feedback from the public to ensure privacy is protected.

“Our plan from the beginning was to use this process to learn and examine the capabilities of the technology and use that information to make informed decisions," Evans said. "Moving forward, we will continue the process of inspecting what is available and ensuring that it meets the needs of the department while protecting the privacy of the public."

BPD received proposals from Dataminr, Uncharted and Terint Technologies, all of which have experience in the public sector.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 151 counties, cities and police departments have purchased monitoring software. The FBI recently awarded a contract to Dataminr for real-time Twitter monitoring.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA from West Chester University and an MA in English from the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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