Legal Aid, Orrick Announce Litigation against Manhattan DA for Information on Office’s Social Media Monitoring

The Legal Aid Society and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP announced a lawsuit today against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. seeking more information on his office’s use of social media monitoring services.

It has been widely reported that certain social media monitoring companies, including Geofeedia and Media Sonar Technologies, had contracted with law enforcement for access to their databases and software.

As a result of this reporting, in October, 2016, The Legal Aid Society submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to the Manhattan DA’s office to determine if they had contracts with these companies and if so, any office policy relating to this data. In response, the DA’s office refused even to confirm or deny the existence of responsive documents regarding their relationships, if any, with social media monitoring companies.

Some of these companies previously violated their development agreements with social media platforms by contracting with law enforcement to sell access to their databases.

The information gained from this data could potentially be fed into already large databases controlled by the DA’s office or the New York City Police Department. This raises serious concerns as to citizens’ ability to speak and assemble on the internet, as well as to their privacy interests, particularly because the data itself was illegitimately made available by these rogue companies.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP represents The Legal Aid Society in this matter.

“We are concerned about how this data was mined and its history of being made illegitimately accessible to law enforcement,” said Jerome Greco, Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice. “This practice raises serious questions of privacy and civil rights. New Yorkers need to know if the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had or has access to this software and what – if any – office policies it implemented surrounding its use. We look forward to a response from the Manhattan District Attorney on this matter.”

“Citizens of all stripe use social media to meet, interact, and discuss the issues and topics they care about, and the public has a keen interest in knowing when and how the government is monitoring that activity,” said Chris Cariello, an Orrick attorney on the case. “The DA’s refusal even to confirm or deny whether it has records concerning its use of social media monitoring services runs counter to these interests, and to the transparency FOIL demands. It is imperative that the DA fully disclose the scope of its use of these services given the potential chilling effect this practice may have on free speech and privacy rights.”