Following public backlash, the Boston Police Department (BPD) has scrapped plans to purchase social media monitoring technology. As 21st Century State & Local reported in 2016, Boston police were soliciting bids from vendors to purchase social media scanning software. However, civil rights activists, including the ACLU, launched protests and public pressure against what they viewed to be privacy infringements.
However, after receiving vendor bids and considering the public’s reaction to the technology, the BPD has decided to forgo contracting with any vendors at this time. Additionally, William B. Evans, commissioner of the BPD, is sending his team back to the drawing board and is asking them to consider re-drafting the request for proposals to ensure that the BPD acquires the appropriate level of technology, while also protecting the privacy of the public.
“After reviewing the submitted proposals I felt that the technology that was presented exceeds the needs of the department. I met with Mayor (Marty) Walsh and with his support we have decided not to enter into a contract at this time. Our plan from the beginning was to use this process to learn and examine the capabilities of the technology and use that information to make informed decisions,” said Evans. “Moving forward, we will continue the process of inspecting what is available and ensuring that it meets the needs of the department while protecting the privacy of the public.”
To increase public trust in both the police department and the use of technology by the police, Evans is also asking City Councilor Andrea Campbell, chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, to solicit feedback from the public on policy issues related to the use of the technology. Evans also asked Campbell to provide the public with information on the BPD’s intended use of the social media scanning technology, as well as provide instances where the technology is necessary to effectively protect the public.
Privacy rights activists are viewing this announcement as a victory.
“We are very happy the mayor and the police commissioner heard the people of Boston, over 3,000 of whom raised their voices against this dangerous proposal. This is a victory not only for privacy and transparency but for the democratic process,” said Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The people flexed their muscle and the powers that be listened. That’s how our system is supposed to work.”