By Julian Oddo
In early April, it was revealed that the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department (CMPD) has a contract agreement with Dataminr Inc, a New York-based company that was used by police departments across the country to surveil social media and track activists during the summer uprisings for Black lives and against the police.
A representative from the City of Charlotte said they were first approached by Dataminr regarding a contract in the Fall of 2019, during meetings with the FBI in preparation for the Republican National Convention. A yearly contract was signed in June of 2020. CMPD’s existing array of surveillance tools include a network of over 1000 cameras and a Stingray cell-site simulator, which allows police to intercept cell phone data by mimicking cell phone towers.
During the summer uprisings, in addition to their surveillance tactics, CMPD carried out brutal assaults on protesters, surrounding them with riot police and then attacking them with pepper bombs, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Four protesters who were at a June 2 protest are currently suing CMPD for “violent, warfare-like, and terroristic tactics.”
Numerous protesters present during the assault said it was completely unprovoked, with no dispersal order given. Police were recorded saying “Wave goodbye, they’re all about to get gassed.”
During the summer of uprisings for Black lives, Dataminr provided police with the exact locations of protesters across the country, using their privileged access to Twitter data. This privileged access, called a “firehose,” gave Dataminr the ability to scan every tweet that was published in real time.
Dataminr alerts emailed to police departments compiled information from Snapchat and Facebook, which allowed police to predict upcoming protests in addition to ongoing events. This directly contradicts claims by Dataminr that their software was not used for surveillance.
Dataminr’s early investors include Twitter and the CIA, and the company currently has a valuation of over $1.8 billion. The FBI signed an expedited agreement with the company on June 9, during the summer uprisings following George Floyd’s murder.
The state’s surveillance capabilities are another reminder to activists and protesters that the technology of the ruling class is never in service to the people, and revolutionaries must not put their faith in these tools which function to profit imperialists while monitoring the thoughts and actions of the people fighting for a new society.
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