‘If your mom can go in and see it, so can the cops’: How law enforcement is using social media to identify protesters in Pittsburgh

A task force made up of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies has charged 32 people with crimes related to the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh. In a majority of the cases, charging documents show that law enforcement used social media as a tool to identify suspects and gather evidence on alleged crimes. In early June, after protests in Downtown and East Liberty over the death of George Floyd, the City of Pittsburgh created the Damage Assessment and Accountability Task Force [DAAT] to investigate incidents of violence, looting and vandalism at recent protests. DAAT has so far charged 32 people — including several prominent local activists — in a total of 34 cases, with alleged crimes stemming from the protests. The charges range from disorderly conduct and failure to disperse to burglary and weapons of mass destruction.

(Photo via iStock)

Emails show Allegheny County district attorney’s office used trial of controversial facial recognition technology Clearview

“Dystopian” and “'Black Mirror'-esque” are among the ways critics have described Clearview, a facial recognition technology startup founded in 2016. The program’s ability to scrape photos off of the web and instantly aggregate information on just about anyone with an online presence, without their knowledge, has drawn the ire of privacy advocates, Democratic lawmakers and the same social media companies it relies on for data. 

The system has been used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States and abroad — including, as newly obtained records show, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office. 

Emails obtained by PublicSource through an open records request show that Clearview trial accounts were linked to email addresses of four employees in the office of District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.: analysts Andrew Colvin, Ted DeAngelis and Norah Xiong, and detective Lyle Graber. The trials started at different times, with emails first referencing a trial on Feb. 7 and last noting a log in on March 17. Three of the employee accounts were signed in to more than once.

A police officer blocks traffic as people walk by chanting during a June 18, 2020 march against police violence from Freedom Corner. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Who polices the police? In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, a critical crossroads for civilian review

The death of George Floyd and other incidents of police brutality have catalyzed nationwide calls for police reform and put civilian review of law enforcement at the forefront of policy conversations. Between a recent call for a referendum to strengthen Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board [CPRB] and renewed efforts to create a countywide board, local elected officials are taking steps to create and expand civilian oversight.