Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Seattle police may have read your social media posts, against city policy

Use a social media site in the last two years? Seattle police may have read your posts.

The police department has been using social media tracking software called Geofeedia, and they did so without the city's permission.

The city’s cop watchdog, Pierce Murphy, said that’s a violation of city policy.

Murphy heads the city’s Office of Professional Accountability, and he is now investigating the police department and any employees who may have used the surveillance tool.

City Councilmember Lorena González said she's beyond frustrated that the City Council didn't know about Geofeedia.

González: "The police department needs to be able to collect information. But we also need to make sure that they don't have a blank check opportunity to just watch whomever they want."

She chairs the council's gender equity, safe communities, and new Americans committee. González said the City Council controls the budget, so it could choose to prohibit the surveillance system. She also said it's time to review the city's surveillance ordinance, written in 2013.

Geofeedia is also used by law enforcement in Memphis, Oakland, Denver and other cities.

A Geofeedia spokesperson contends there is no privacy issue, since all of the social media posts are public anyway. But according to the ACLU of Washington, the software has been used elsewhere to label unions and activist groups as threats. That could be of concern to activist groups in Seattle, who depend on social media to organize.

Geofeedia is location based, so users can see exactly where the posts come from.

The SPD released a statement on the topic, saying:

"A department legal review has determined that the use of these tools does not conflict with either the City of Seattle’s Intelligence or Surveillance ordinances, but in keeping with the department’s commitment to transparency, SPD has also asked the City of Seattle Intelligence Auditor to conduct a full review of SPD’s use of digital technologies.

We believe this audit, and any other reviews, will confirm SPD’s public safety efforts are both lawful and in keeping with our commitments to privacy. We look forward to discussing this subject with City Council further."

Why you can trust KUOW