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ACLU Criticizes Social Media for Allowing Access to Content

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

An article this week in The New York Times Police Use Surveillance Tool to Scan Social Media about Chicago company Geofeedia’s use of text, photos and videos from social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to aid in law enforcement sparks controversy about law enforcement vs. civil liberties.

The use of location technology to solve crimes is nothing new. The use of social media content in a specific location is relatively new, and a potent resource for law enforcement.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing, or is it, like all new technologies, fraught with the potential for misuse as well as for the common good? It is sort of like the case of the hammer: you can use it to build a house, or to hit someone over the head with it.

We have covered Geofeedia quite extensively in GISCafe news, for use in retail, public safety, disaster response and law enforcement etc. Additional uses for Geofeedia services remain to be seen, but it may be extremely helpful for averting violence at certain events.

Geofeedia Ads Leverages Location Data

Within Seconds, Geofeedia Customers Can Take Action on Data

It is really a case of, we have the technology, so how do we use it to its best advantage without damaging civil liberties of the individual?

Geofeedia’s tool allows users to search for social media content in a specific location, as opposed to searching by words or hashtags that would be less likely to identify an exact location.

Over 500 law enforcement agencies have signed up for Geofeedia’s solutions, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The company shows how Baltimore officials were able to track and respond to violent protests that broke out after Freddie Gray died in police custody in April 2015, using their tool.

The ACLU reports says that Geofeedia has used programs freely offered by social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter that allow app developers or advertising companies to create third-party tools. In response to criticism from ACLU saying that social media companies have been “lax” in monitoring their data, social media companies say they’ve stopped Geofeedia’s access to their information.

According to The New York Times article: “These platforms should be doing more to protect the free speech rights of activists of color,” Matt Cagle, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. in Northern California, said in an interview. “When they open their feeds to companies that market surveillance products, they risk putting their users in harm’s way.”

Each of the companies had a concern for how their data was being used. Instagram and Facebook terminated Geofeedia’s access to their data in September, while Twitter shut off access on Tuesday. The companies suggested that Geofeedia was using social media data in a way that was not allowed under their developer agreements. The public data made available by Facebook, for example, was subject to access limitations stated in the company’s platform policy. Developers are required to provide a privacy policy that details what data they are collecting and how the data is intended to be used. Consent is also required from people before using any Facebook technology that collects and processes data about them.

In response to this news, Team Geofeedia issued a blog entitled A Commitment to Freedom of Speech and Civil Liberties, in which it defined Geofeedia’s role as a “software platform that aims to provide important, real-time, publicly available information to a broad range of private and public sector clients, including corporations, media and journalism groups, marketing and advertising firms, educational companies, cities, schools, sports teams, and the aviation sector.”

Phil Harris, chief executive of Geofeedia, said in a statement that his company “provides some clients, including law enforcement officials across the country, with a critical tool in helping to ensure public safety while protecting civil rights and liberties.” He said the firm has policies to prevent “inappropriate use of our software.”

Mr. Harris added that the company understands that given how quickly digital technology changes, Geofeedia “must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.”

The blog states: “In each of these areas, Geofeedia is committed to the principles of personal privacy, transparency, and both the letter and the spirit of the law when it comes to individual rights. Our platform provides some clients, including law enforcement officials across the country, with a critical tool in helping to ensure public safety while protecting civil rights and liberties.

Notably, our software has also been used in response and recovery efforts – from the Boston Marathon to the effects of Hurricane Matthew that we saw this past weekend – to assist millions of people affected by both manmade and natural events.

Geofeedia has in place clear policies and guidelines to prevent the inappropriate use of our software; these include protections related to free speech and ensuring that end-users do not seek to inappropriately identify individuals based on race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation or political beliefs, among other factors. That said, we understand, given the ever-changing nature of digital technology, that we must continue to work to build on these critical protections of civil rights.

Geofeedia will continue to engage with key civil liberty stakeholders, including the ACLU, and the law enforcement community to make sure that we do everything in our power to support the security of the American people and the protection of personal freedoms.”

The ACLU got wind of the use of Geofeedia when 60+ law enforcement agency records revealed a significant expansion of social media surveillance.

“Posts on social media platforms can reveal information about our location, our religion, the people we associate with,” Cagle said. “Users of social media websites do not expect or want the government to be monitoring this information. And users should not be at risk of being branded a risk to public safety simply for speaking their mind on social media.”

The New York Times has used Geofeedia technology in the past, but stated that it has not used it since 2015.

Regardless of the threat to civil liberties, it does appear that such location-based information gleaned from social media is here to stay, for reasons of national security, community security, disaster response and recovery, etc. Thus it would seem policies to protect civil rights of individuals need to be quickly put in place. Geofeedia is not the only company providing this sort of surveillance. See our story in GISCafe Voice Vencore Aggregates Data from many Open Sources and Social Media





Hexagon Acquisition of GISquadrat GmbH Enhances Reach of Geospatial for Governments and Utilities in Europe

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure acquired GISquadrat GmbH of Vienna, Austria. The acquisition is aimed at enhancing Hexagon’s geospatial, cloud and mobile solutions for governments and utility providers in Europe as well as bringing in more than 300 customers and thousands of users into the Hexagon fold.

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Esri Web Maps Provide Forecasting for NOAA’s National Water Model

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

About two weeks ago, Esri launched a collection of web maps that display NOAA forecast streamflow data for the continental U.S. NOAA’s recently released National Water Model. Data from the Model combined with the National Hydrography Dataset and fed by NOAA’s National Weather Service data, forecasts the flow of water along the 2.7 million stream segments in the continental U.S. in ArcGIS Online.

NWM_10_Day_Anomaly_2 (more…)

Vencore Aggregates Data from Many Open Sources and Social Media

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Patrick T. Biltgen, Ph.D., Technical Director for Analytics, Vencore, Inc., talked with GISCafe Voice about their offerings. Vencore is a provider of information solutions, engineering and analytics for the U.S. Government with more than 40 years of experience working in the defense, civilian and intelligence communities. This summer Vencore, a company that spun off from Lockheed Martin about four years ago, was awarded a prime contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to deliver research in the area of enhanced cyber defense by developing a fully air-gapped detection system based on analysis of involuntary analog emissions. The four-year contract has a total ceiling value of $8.3M and will be performed as part of DARPA’s Leveraging the Analog Domain for Security (LADS) program.

GISCafe Voice: How are you able to decipher which information is potentially significant and which is not?

Open sources and social media provide a wealth of information, but each source must be vetted carefully. We have developed a structured method for evaluating the quality and reliability of open sources based on their social network, past reporting, credentials, and other factors. We also have highly trained, contextually aware analysts with years of experience studying conflict around the world. Many of our analysts have spent time overseas and are fluent in multiple languages.

This holistic perspective allows us to weigh and judge information instead of accepting open source data at face value.

Bringing GIS Indoors with InVision 2.1

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

PenBay Solutions’ chief technology officer, Stuart Rich, spoke with me at Esri UC 2016 in San Diego about the company’s leveraging of GIS to solve facilities management problems.

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GISCafe Voice Esri User Conference 2016 Report

Saturday, July 2nd, 2016

The question: what do we do with all this data? Is one that really runs parallel with the theme of this year’s Esri User Conference held in San Diego, entitled, “GIS Enabling a Smarter World.”

Jack Dangermond, CEO and President of Esri

Jack Dangermond, CEO and President of Esri


Horizontal Location Intelligence and Growing Global Presence at Pitney Bowes

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Joe Francica, managing director of Geospatial Industry Solutions, Digital Commerce Solutions for Pitney Bowes talked about the company’s focus on the launch of horizontal location intelligence, while at GEOINT Symposium 2016 a week ago.

Spectrum Spatial Analyst

Spectrum Spatial Analyst


From the Exhibit Hall: GEOINT Symposium 2016

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

The GEOINT Symposium 2016 attracted a great many exhibitors all focused on providing excellent resources for the geo-intelligence community. Tools for mobility, analytics, cloud, open source, business and location intelligence, moving data back and forth between unclassified and top security listings, and much more abound in this showcase of commercial offerings.

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GEOINT 2016 Symposium Special Report

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Monday’s keynotes at the GEOINT Symposium 2016 held this week in Orlando, Fla. began with an engaging view of global connectivity from global strategist and author Parag Khanna, author of Connectography, Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. His belief is that the world is at the beginning of the “connectivity revolution.” He asked the audience to consider how they might change the way maps are constructed in order to emphasize today’s global connectivity.

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GISCafe Exhibiting at GEOINT 2016 in Orlando

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

GEOINT 2016 in Orlando next week is expected to be an exciting conference for the government sector.

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