- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Boston Police Department on Friday announced it was putting a hold on its plans to purchase $1.4 million worth of social media surveillance software, signaling a win for civil liberties activists who said the program was poised to chill free speech and hindered other constitutionally-protected activity.

Local law enforcement had sought social media analytic technology capable of scouring the internet for potential threats, including the ability to monitor platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube in real time for any data of interest to investigators, according to an Oct. 2016 request for proposals.

Three months later, Police Commissioner William B. Evans said in a statement Friday that it’s back to the drawing board after every option touted by vendors proved too intense for authorities.

“After reviewing the submitted proposals I felt that the technology that was presented exceeds the needs of the department,” Mr. Evans said.

The decision not to enter into a contract for now was reached after consulting with Mayor Martin Walsh, he added.

“Our plan from the beginning was to use this process to learn and examine the capabilities of the technology and use that information to make informed decisions,” the commissioner said in a statement. “Moving forward, we will continue the process of inspecting what is available and ensuring that it meets the needs of the department while protecting the privacy of the public.”

Friday’s news was applauded by digital rights and civil liberties advocates who were against the BPD’s proposal from the get-go as a result of what they perceived as a likely threat to free speech and privacy.

“This is a huge victory and offers a glimmer of hope for our basic rights at a time when it is in short supply,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, a group that had rallied in opposition of the proposal.

“Mass surveillance programs like the one the Boston Police intended to launch don’t actually make us safer, but they have a profoundly chilling effect on freedom of speech and our basic civil rights.”

According to the police statement, law enforcement plans to re-draft its request for proposal in an effort to ensure future bids offer “the appropriate level of technology, while also protecting the privacy of the public.”

In its initial proposal, the BPD told vendors it was interested in software that supports the “identification, collection, aggregation, synthesis, analysis, visualization and investigation of threat information” in real time.

Detailing his request during a public radio interview in December, the police commissioner said the software was a “necessary tool of law enforcement and helps in keeping our neighborhoods safe from violence, as well as terrorism, human trafficking, and young kids who might be the victim of a pedophile.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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