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Local Police Department Declares Jurisdiction over Social Media Feeds

By Kayla Moon & Abdilaziz Meqdad (Ed.)

During the Fresno City Council hearing on Beware, which was held on March 31, 2016, the council rejected, Fresno Police Chief, Jerry Dyer’s request for a five year, $132,000 contract with Intrado for the Beware Software, with a vote of 5-0. Fortunately, with the collective concern of pastors of Faith in Community,  the American Civil Liberties Union and even the Fresno City Council members, the people of Fresno have been safeguarded from the use of this corrupt software. The Beware Software, which has been first tested by the Police Department in Fresno, CA (the corporate testing grounds of America), has caused a major deal of controversy since its unwanted emergence. In regards to the program’s initial foundation; Justin Jouvenal states that Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claims that the Beware Software has been building since September 11. Lynch explains that “first funding went to the military to develop this technology, and now it has come back to domestic law enforcement. It’s the perfect storm of cheaper and easier-to-use technologies and money from state and federal governments to purchase it,” (Jouvenal, 2016).

Although the Beware Software claims a hope for creating more awareness to potential threats, the color-coded threat system this domestically militarized program offers is flawed. Additionally, allowing access to the general public’s social media feeds intrudes on the right’s to privacy. In spite of the Beware program’s rejection by Fresno City Council, during the Black Lives Matter protest in Fresno, CA on July 9, 2016, the Fresno Bee released an article stating that the Fresno Police Department was surveying the protest via Facebook live streams. During an interview with the Fresno Bee, Dyer stated that the Fresno Police Department was able keep up with the protestors’ location and even fine some protestors with the help of social media surveillance.

Clearly, the Fresno City Council’s unanimous rejection to the use of  Beware was due to the concerning and often incorrect threat coding system Beware offers, as well as Beware’s breach of the public population’s privacy. One wonders, if Beware was indeed shut down, then how was the Fresno Police Department and Chief Dyer able to gain access to the live Facebook feeds of protestors on July 9, 2016? Additionally, if the Fresno Police Department has indeed breached the Council’s rejection, then when and how will they be held accountable for such a violation? It is plausible that the Fresno Police Department has access to other means of technological surveillance systems outside of the Beware Software. But the people of Fresno have clearly highlighted their concern and disapproval of any and all means of technological programs that incorrectly labels a citizen’s threat levels and infringes on the people’s rights to privacy.

With hundreds of cameras scattered through out the city of Fresno and hung microphones constantly listening, Fresno’s Real Time Crime Center offers a formidable model for high-tech policing nationwide. Through programs such as ShotSpotter, Media Sonar, as well as access to hundreds of  feeds from the city’s schools and traffic cameras, Fresno Police Department is able to constantly monitor certain individuals. If Police Departments, such as FPD, are also given access to monitor social spaces, which are provided to humans as a means to express themselves and practice their right to free speech, then one may argue that Martial Law is becoming a formidable reality for America. If the right’s of citizens to safely speak out against police brutality is withheld then how are the issues regarding injustices of local governments and societal ills such as the prison industrial complex, systematic oppression, etc. expected to be addressed. The involvement of every citizen within the community is absolutely necessary in this time of frailty, which thinly separates society between a world of free speech and expression versus a world which lacks privacy and safe communication.

Note,

Great appreciation needs to be given to the efforts of Community Journalists in providing truthful information to the general public. Therefore, Community Journalists should not have to feel antagonized with the potentiality of incriminating the activists and protestors they so often document and/or interview. A Community Journalist should be given the right and comfort to document any issue that arises within a society, without fearing that their media outlet will cause harm to others or themselves. According to The Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Journalists, all journalists have “the right to information, to freedom of expression and criticism is one of the fundamental rights of man,” and “all rights and duties of a journalist originate from this right of the public to be informed on events and opinions.” The Beware Software, and all other programs that carry the same narrative, take those rights away.

Works Cited

“Chief Dyer: Fresno Police Used Social Media to Track Protest March.” The Fresno Bee. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.

“Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Journalists.” Accountable Journalism. N.p., n.d. Web. 17

July 2016. https://accountablejournalism.org/ethics-codes/International-Declaration

“Empower First Responders with Enhanced Situational Awareness. Beware.” West Corporation. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016. https://www.west.com/safety-services/public-safety/ powerdata/beware/#

Jouvenal, Justin. “The New Way Police Are Surveilling You: Calculating Your Threat ‘score'”

Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.

Sheehan, Tim. “Fresno Council Halts Purchase of Data Software Wanted by Police.” The Fresno

Bee. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.