University of North Carolina police tracked anti-racism activists after deadly Charlottesville attack

Investigators used the tracking technology at a protest at a memorial known as "Silent Sam"—a gun-toting Confederate soldier, the site of regular protests.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Demonstrators rally for the removal of a Confederate statue coined Silent Sam on the campus of the University of Chapel Hill on August 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

University of North Carolina campus police and state investigators used tracking technology to surveil anti-racism activists for a protest at a memorial known as “Silent Sam”—a gun-toting Confederate soldier, according to NBC News.

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In the aftermath of the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., UNC Chapel Hill police began using the controversial tracking technology, known as “geofencing” after the FBI notified them that activists planned to protest at the “Silent Sam” memorial. The FBI warning to UNC police came a day after protestors met in Charlottesville, Va., to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from a city park, NBC News writes.

The tracking technology pulls information from unsuspecting people who are in a specific area, determined by their phones’ geolocation systems, and even captures a person’s social media posts as well as other personal data. The technology has been used by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and by certain retailers to send targeted ads to a person’s mobile device, the report says.

Because of the violent nature of the Charlottesville protest, where a white supremacist killed an anti-racism activist by ramming his car into her, police were on high alert to monitor the activities of protestors in North Carolina.

NBC News reported that an FBI agent sent the UNC campus police chief an email on Aug. 13, 2017, that read, “I’m sure you’re already tracking, but wanted to make sure,” before warning that activists were expected to protest at Silent Sam later that evening.

“We have no information of any planned violence at this time,” the FBI agent said in the email, according to NBC News. “Any intelligence we develop will be pushed your way.”

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NBC News reported that UNC had entered a three-year contract with a company called Social Sentinel Inc. of Vermont to use the geofencing software. The contract reportedly ran through Oct. 31, 2019, although campus police are still using it to track information in designated areas, a university spokesperson told NBC.

The spokesperson, however, wouldn’t divulge for what purposes police are using the technology or when it was last used, outside of saying it is used to “ensure campus safety.”

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