Seattle Police accused of using surveillance software to monitor public online

Seattle Police (KOMO Photo)

SEATTLE - The Seattle Police Department is under fire for possibly illegally tracking people's social media posts for more than a year and a half.

The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) announced it's launching a preliminary investigation to see if Seattle Police secretly bought software that can monitor people's posts on their phones.

"My reaction is one of disappointment and frustration," said Seattle City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez.

Gonzalez claims the Seattle Police Department secretly bought and used the software that can deeply track your social media posts, pinpoint your location and monitor your online conversations.

The purchase may have violated a city ordinance that requires a city department to obtain city council approval before buying surveillance.

"My expectation they would have had the controls in place that this kind of software and technology would have gone through the proper process," said Gonzalez.

According to an investigation by the newspaper The Stranger, the Seattle Police purchased the software called Geofeedia for $14,125 and used it from October 2014 to June 2016.

Geofeedia claims the software can mine and analyze data to predict and act on real time solutions. An example would be like monitoring flare ups during the May Day protests.

"Perhaps the police department believes that they have a legitimate operational need for this software," said Gonzalez.

But, Gonzalez fears the software may have also allowed Seattle Police to target those not under investigation - thus violating constitutional rights of resident.

Seattle Police responded with a statement on Thursday saying in part: "A department legal review has determined that the use of these tools does not conflict with either the city of Seattle's intelligence or surveillance ordinances."

"We obviously need to make sure the police have the resources to do their job," said Gonzalez. "But we also need to make sure that in the course of doing their jobs they are not inadvertently or intentionally violating people's privacy rights."

The preliminary investigation will continue for 30 days and then the OPA will determine if they need to launch a full investigation.

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