Police departments all over the country have collectively spent at least $4.75 million dollars monitoring social media according to a nonprofit group focusing on criminal justice issues called the Brennan Center for Justice.
But the center warns The Washington Post that number is just a fraction of what police departments are spending to monitor activists and suspects.
The numbers we have are massively understated,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the organization’s liberty and national security program, pointing out that agencies don’t always have any obligation to report their use of the software. “But it gives an indication of a phenomenon that is growing rapidly and flying under the radar.
The study only looks at social media surveillance from local law enforcement, not federal agencies. No doubt police will be monitoring protesters more aggressively under a Trump administration. Here's what the Brennan Center says about that.
In the wake of the 2016 election, recent revelations that law enforcement used social media monitoring tools that touted their ability to track protests take on increased significance.
Police argue people often brag about their crimes on social media and the information being monitored is mostly public anyway. According to the center, the social media tools do have "legitimate public safety purposes," but they can easily be abused.
These tools are far more powerful than looking up a profile or following a hashtag the way members of the public do. Law enforcement can use these powerful software products to read, interpret, and categorize millions of posts in mere minutes, allowing for the constant monitoring and archiving of information on millions of people’s activities. In addition, only a small fraction of jurisdictions have publicly-available policies on how to use social media to monitor civilians.
With that in mind, you might want to check out these digital security tips from a nonprofit dedicated to "defending civil liberties in the digital world" called the Electronic Frontier Foundation.