ACLU sues Chicago police for social media monitoring records

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Chicago police (Photo by JOSHUA LOTT/AFP via Getty Images)

CHICAGO (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union wants the Chicago Police Department to turn over records about a team formed last year to monitor social media.

In a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the ACLU wants the court to compel the department to release documents it refused to hand over after public records requests.

“CPD’s record on respecting personal privacy is abysmal,” Ariana Bushweller, an attorney representing the ACLU of Illinois said in a statement. “With that history, CPD must provide public records that answer basic questions about why the city is monitoring social media accounts, who has access to the information collected, and how the information is being used.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown in August announced formation of the team to monitor social media sites around the clock amid looting and other disturbances after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Lightfoot said Thursday social media provides a lot of information, but she ordered the department to monitor the information carefully. At the time she said the monitoring will allow police to be aware of planned activity as early as possible and to enable them to respond quickly and appropriately.

She reiterated that position Thursday, arguing that social media provides a trove of information, but the mayor said she has ordered the department to monitor the information carefully.

“What we know is that there are a lot of crimes that are being described on social media,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that are happening on social media around protests and unrest.”

The ACLU lawsuit follows a request for public records the police department ultimately turned over, with the exception of all the requested social media records.

“Release of this record would immediately compromise the vulnerability assessments, security measures, and response policies and plans that are designed to respond to potential attacks upon the city of Chicago,” the department wrote in its response, adding a release could also jeopardize the effectiveness of the measures to combat attacks.

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