SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. police departments used location data and other user information from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to track protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, according to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday. Facebook, which also owns Instagram, and Twitter shut off the data access of Geofeedia, the Chicago-based data vendor that provided data to police, in response to the ACLU findings. "These special data deals were allowing the police to sneak in through a side door and use these powerful platforms to track protesters," said Nicole Ozer, the ACLU's technology and civil liberties policy director. In a tweet, Twitter said that it was "immediately suspending Geofeedia's commercial access to Twitter data," following the ACLU report.
According to an ACLU blog post published on Tuesday, law enforcement officials implemented a far-reaching surveillance program to track protesters in both Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD during their recent uprisings and relied on special feeds of user data provided by three top social media companies: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Specifically, all three companies granted access to a developer tool called Geofeedia which allows users to see the geographic origin of social media posts and has been employed by more than 500 law enforcement organizations to track protesters in real time. Based on information in the @ACLU's report, we are immediately suspending @Geofeedia's commercial access to Twitter data. Twitter renegotiated their contract with the subsidiary that granted Geofeedia access with additional terms to safeguard against surveillance and sent the analytics company a cease and desist letter on Monday before shutting down access altogether earlier today.