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Denver Police Department Use Confiscated Cash To Pay For Social Media Spying Tools

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor

At least $30,000 of surveillance software was purchased by the Denver Police Department in the month of May, and the law enforcement agency used confiscated funds to pay for it, according to reports.

The products were developed by Geofeedia, Inc., a startup that produces espionage technology.

Police Chief Robert White approved using the funds gained from civil asset forfeiture to pay for the espionage program, according to The Daily Dot.

Civil asset forfeiture is a practice where police seize someone’s property without ever convicting or charging that person with a crime. It has been a hotly debated and contentious issue since it is viewed by privacy advocates as a blatant violation of constitutional rights.

Geofeedia equipped the Denver Police with the capacity to monitor content on several social media outlets, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope, and others, all at the same time.

The software employs location detection technology and collects all posts in a particular area, a mechanism referred to as geo-fencing.

The department is able to collect content like photos, videos (past or live) and tweets.

While this empowers law enforcement to inspect social media accounts during critical ongoing crimes — like an active shooter incident — the stockpiling is indiscriminate and expansive, so innocent people’s personal data is often scooped up too.

The Denver Police Department apparently denied the Daily Dot’s request for records concerning the specific type of social media content it acquired through Geofeedia’s services. The agency said it was inaccessible because it is considered “confidential intelligence information” and “the proprietary interests of the manufacturer outweighs any public purpose to be served by release” of such records, according to The Daily Dot.

The technology sounds highly similar to Stingray devices, or cell site simulators. Stingrays are essentially “cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

A British weapons and defense manufacturing company is selling advanced spying technology to police departments across the U.S., according to The Intercept report earlier this month. The same business is believed to sell the very same technology to authoritarian regimes around the world.

The Baltimore Police Department has been accused of illegally using surveillance technology called Stingray devices to snoop on innocent people . The Federal Communications Commission received a civil complaint from privacy advocacy organizations in mid-August.

As for civil asset forfeiture, New Mexico passed a bill abolishing the practice in April, 2015. Gov. Susana Martinez signed the measure because “as an attorney and career prosecutor” she understands the significance of ensuring “safeguards are in place to protect our constitutional rights.”

It is still a popular police procedure since in 2014, more was taken through civil asset forfeiture than reported criminal robberies.

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