It was below freezing in Chicago on December 12, 2017 when a 23-year-old man was fatally shot in the abdomen while standing on the sidewalk. In the days following the victim’s death, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) gathered information about the victim on social media. Documents obtained by OneZero indicate that the CPD also went one step further, collecting social media content from individuals who were publicly mourning and grieving for the loss of the 23-year-old man. “I can’t stop crying…” one of the posts collected by the CPD reads, “why would this happen.”
Hundreds of pages of internal documents obtained via FOIA requests by the ACLU of Illinois and the Lucy Parsons Labs, a Chicago-based police transparency and accountability nonprofit, reveals for the first time how the CPD surveils the social media accounts of victims of gun violence, as well as their friends and family members. Though the surveillance is conducted in an effort to gather further information about shootings, police officers also gather public social media content from individuals who apparently have little or nothing to do with the crime. The documents span 12 nonconsecutive months from November 2017 through July 2019.
The newly revealed documents, in conjunction with the CPD’s history of using disputed predictive policing models, outline how the CPD is gathering information from potentially innocent and already traumatized individuals.
Nathan Sheard, the associate director of community organizing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that law enforcement surveillance of already marginalized communities presents troubling implications. “It’s notable that the police department, instead of working with the victims of these crimes — the people who would have the greatest incentive to solve the case — or getting any consent for this practice, are surreptitiously surveilling victims of crimes,” Sheard says. “These are victims, not perpetrators.”
The social media logs reviewed by OneZero were created by the CPD’s Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) officers, who are typically tasked with collecting information from publicly available data. An OSINT officer…