My home city of Chicago has built quite a reputation for itself to date. It wouldn’t be entirely unfair to suggest that the city’s government is run by very silly people who think its citizens are quite stupid, while also managing to build something of a kleptocracy centered around professional corruption. With any such hilariously corrupt institutions, the corruption itself is only half the frustration. The other half is the way the Chicago government thumbs its nose at virtually everyone, so secure is it in its knowledge that its corruption will never result in any serious penalty.
An example of this can be found in the way the city government responded to an ACLU FOIA request to disclose the vendor Chicago is using to monitor the social media accounts of its own citizens. If you’re thinking that such a program sounds dystopian, welcome to Chicago. If you’re thinking there’s no way that the city should be able to hide that information from its citizens and that it was obviously disclosed publicly somewhere, welcome to Chicago. And if you thought that a FOIA request must surely be all that it would take to get this information to the public, well, you know the rest.
The ACLU of Illinois today called for an end to an invasive program that allows Chicago police to monitor the social media accounts of the City’s residents. The call comes after the City finally released records Wednesday revealing the name of the spying software that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has used to covertly monitor Chicagoans’ social media profiles.
The release was through litigation filed by the ACLU last June in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to force the City to produce documents in response to a January 2018 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The ACLU was represented by Louis A. Klapp at Quarles & Brady LLP in this request. Previously, CPD acknowledged that it spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on social media monitoring software, but refused to provide the name of the software company.
Now, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a platform to monitor the social media activity of its own citizens is bad enough on its own. After all, this isn’t the first go around with Chicago doing this very thing. In 2014, Chicago contracted with a different company, Geofeedia, to do exactly this sort of social media monitoring. After the ACLU learned of that relationship and disclosed that Geofeedia marketing materials targeted “activists” and “unions” as “overt threats” for which its platform should be used for monitoring, the reaction of the public was severe enough that many social media sites simply disallowed Geofeedia access from their platforms, rendering them useless to Chicago government.
In fact, it was that very occurrence that Chicago used to justify hiding its vendor relationship from the ACLU currently.
Social media sites then subsequently cut off Geofeedia’s access to their users’ data. The City claimed that this public reaction justified hiding future vendors from public view.
What the ACLU was able to get out of the city is that it used another company, Dunami, for surveillance through 2018. The ACLU has filed another FOIA request to get any information on a current contract, if one exists. Meanwhile, the above reasoning — that Chicago should shield the vendor it uses to monitor the social media habits of its own citizens because the last time the ACLU got that info people didn’t like it — is the kind of reasoning only the most brazenly corrupt regimes could possibly make.
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