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Meet Babel Street, the Powerful Social Media Surveillance Used by Police, Secret Service, and Sports Stadiums

Published: April 17, 2017
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Source: Motherboard

 

After Geofeedia's highly publicized PR disaster, in which Chicago Police were found to have used the social media surveillance platform to track racial justice protests and gatherings, the social media monitoring company saw Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram cut off its data streams. Arguably the three most valuable API streams for social media sites, it would make sense for law enforcement to try and find an alternative software. A company called Babel Street, hailing from Reston, Virginia, might just be the answer.

Newly released records from the Seattle Police Department indicate that in March of 2016, the agency acquired a two month trial run of Babel Street's Babel X software and Open Source Intelligence training. The purchase ran the department $6,500. The price of a one year Babel X subscription is $18,500, per a quote for the Army National Guard, which for some reason wound up in this SPD release. That price is notably lower than what Geofeedia charged for a year long contract, $26,000.

The emails included in release indicate that Seattle PD are one of many users of Babel Street software, and are soon to be joined by the US Secret Service. Some emails with the FBI San Francisco Field Office clearly show that the FBI is also using Babel Street programs, and illustrate that SPD's reason of interest for the Babel Street test run was to learn how the software is utilized to "support a major event." The FBI recommended that Seattle Police reach out to San Francisco PD to learn more about how they used it when nearby Santa Clara hosted Super Bowl 50 (a Freedom of Information Act request I filed has not been answered so far by the SFPD). The FBI was apparently too busy to deal with SPD's request for assistance.

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