New York law enforcement agencies have spent millions of dollars to expand their capabilities to track and analyze social media posts, new documents show, including by contracting with a surveillance firm accused of improperly scraping social media platforms for data. From a report: Documents obtained by the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (Stop), a privacy advocacy non-profit and shared with the Guardian, reveal the New York police department in 2018 entered a nearly $9m contract with Voyager Labs, a surveillance company that has been sued by Meta for allegedly using nearly 40,000 fake Facebook accounts to collect data on an estimated 600,000 users. NYPD purchased Voyager Labs products that the company claims can use artificial intelligence to analyze online human behavior and detect and predict fraud and crimes, the documents show.
A separate document reveals a contract between the Queens district attorney and Israeli firm Cobwebs Technologies, which also offers social network mapping products, as well as tools to track location information through phones. It’s unclear how much that contract is worth. Law enforcement across the United States have worked with social media analytics companies for years, hoping to more effectively and efficiently collect and make sense of the hordes of personal information available on the internet. But experts have argued the practice can cross ethical and legal lines, particularly when used to access private information, make inferences or predict future criminality based on the content posted on social media, or otherwise help law enforcement skip obtaining subpoenas and warrants before gathering information on someone.