The ACLU of Illinois today called for an end to an invasive program that allows Chicago police to monitor the social media accounts of the City’s residents. The call comes after the City finally released records Wednesday revealing the name of the spying software that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) has used to covertly monitor Chicagoans’ social media profiles.  

The release was through litigation filed by the ACLU last June in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to force the City to produce documents in response to a January 2018 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The ACLU was represented by Louis A. Klapp at Quarles & Brady LLP in this request. Previously, CPD acknowledged that it spends hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on social media monitoring software, but refused to provide the name of the software company. 

“This invasive program should be suspended immediately until there is time for full, public airing of the reach, power and use of the tool,” said Karen Sheley, Police Practices Project Director, ACLU of Illinois. “We need time for a new Mayor and City Council to ensure that there is an open process to discuss how this tool works and whether it should be used at all.”  

“After a year of resistance and evasion, the City finally revealed the name of the company they have contracted to monitor the social media of Chicago residents. This information should have never been kept secret in the first place,” said Karen Sheley. “This is isn’t the way government should work. The public has a right to know the identity of government contractors in order to assess possible corruption. And the City should not hide such basic information when a tool this invasive is being used.”

The records revealed in court this week showed that the CPD was using Dunami, a social media surveillance tool. There was no evidence in the documents of any public notice, input, or City Council vote on the use of this surveillance software. The City has only released documents showing that Dunami was used through the end of 2018; the City of Chicago may have contracted with a new vendor for 2019. The ACLU is filing a new FOIA to uncover the current contract.

In addition to the use of Dunami, the ACLU of Illinois previously discovered that the City of Chicago contracted with the social media monitoring vendor Geofeedia from 2014 to 2016, whose marketing materials labelled activists and unions as “overt threats.” Social media sites then subsequently cut off Geofeedia’s access to their users’ data. The City claimed that this public reaction justified hiding future vendors from public view.