Mayor Hodges, #pointergate, and social media spying


The KSTP story with Mayor Hodges doing stylish finger pointing has created a real buzz. But for me the underlying issues of this episode that the public or media are not asking about or may not understand need to be explored. Where did the picture come from? Was it a part of a law enforcement agency or agencies social media monitoring and surveillance activities that the picture was discovered? Or more of a direct question: Is it relevant to and interest of the public to know if an agency is engaging in cyber stalking of people, data collected for unknown purposes and then share with others?

As I have stated in posts before, law enforcement and investigative agencies of government are like vacuum cleaners, if they had their druthers they would suck up everything on everyone. As we know with the use of license plate readers and cell phone surveillance, cops are looking for data which may be helpful immediately or maybe sometime in the future. (collect multitude bits of data on innocent people)

Read more TC Daily Planet coverage of this issue.

In doing data requests of several law enforcement agencies on their role of using social media for monitoring and surveillance purpose. I have learned about some of their activities and thinking. The requests I did were like the following:

“Pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act I want to inspect and review all policies, procedure, protocols, or government data that are used to apply and use social media in law enforcement purposes. Many law enforcement agencies are now in the social media environment using it for marketing, branding, and listening/monitoring to collect and gather information for investigative and intelligence purposes.” (West St Paul Police Department example)

The response I got from the agencies was basically, yes we do this kind of behavior, but we have no polices/protocols or we are working on them. That was 18 months ago.

But now with #pointergate…… interest is piqued again and which was the motivator of this post

What is the trigger that creates interest of an investigative agency in a post, or picture on such social media site to where it is copied and distributed? When I discuss with others about government’s behavior of monitoring/surveillance of social sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and other similar venues. The first response is: “It’s public. You post it, you wrote it, take the consequences.” True, so true, it’s “out there” but we do have a right to know if the government is monitoring, keeping an eye on, and overseeing us.

One possibility of how her honor’s (Mayor Hodges) picture came to public light is that an investigator was doing social media trolling of “persons of interest.” Saw the picture and said, WOW! The Mayor’s prominent “finger pointing” may just reveal the method and mode of how enforcement agencies obtain and use information from the Internet. But what’s not evident and straightforward, is how social media data has been and are being collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by Minnesota local and state governmentt enforcement agencies.

If one asks the media spokesperson for a government agency such as Minnesota Department of Public Safety, or Mayor Hodges press person, if they monitor social media they will say yes. The purpose for is to get an idea of what the community may be saying about them. But it is much different when an enforcement agency such as Minneapolis Police, Minnesota Department of Revenue, and others monitor and surveil individuals.

I do not know if Minnesota state or local agencies have sophisticated systems monitoring social media, but keeping the Stingray device secret for 8 years, who knew they had a cool and svelte spy device. This is why there needs to be questions and direct answers by local and state agencies that do this kind of behavior.

Government enforcement agencies more than likely have a process of social media surveillance as simple as looking on the Internet to see if Rich Neumeister has a Facebook or Twitter account. Or they can buy into services or get software to do social media surveillance.

Here is another example of private parties doing “big data” surveillance on Facebook and Twitter for law enforcement purposes.

Based on my discussions with law enforcement officials and data requests, many local and state agencies are trawling and spreading the data it collects and retains, but do they have the appropriate procedures, protocols, and policies with public and legislative review, more than likely not.