Protesters hold signs during a rally over Silent Sam on Aug. 30, 2018.Arijit Sen / NBC News
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA — State investigators and college police used a controversial tracking technology called “geofencing” to collect personal information from the cellphones of antiracism protestors at the University of North Carolina after being tipped off by the FBI, according to documents obtained by NBC News via a freedom of information request.
“Geofencing” captures the social media posts of people entering a specific area. The technology locates any cellphones that cross into the area by locking onto their geolocation systems, and then records social media posts and sometimes other data from the phones.
Eight legal experts contacted by NBC News said using geofencing on protestors, especially in the absence of a crime, may violate federal statutes and infringe on demonstrators’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Aziz Huq, a professor of criminal procedure at the University of Chicago Law School and a graduate of UNC, said the technology could lead to police abusing their power.