Editor's Note: This story was clarified to reflect the program analyzes school-related social media and data only.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office is contracting with a company that will watch social media posts in the county for threats of violence, a program that one county leader said he was concerned could be an “invasion of privacy.”
The Sheriff’s Office plans to use $10,500 seized from drug dealers to pay for an annual contract with Vermont-based Social Sentinel Inc. to have the company use its “artificial intelligence” programs to monitor public social media accounts and alert police in the county to concerning findings related to schools in the county.
The goal is to watch for comments or other evidence of possible dangerous or threatening activity, Sheriff Bud York advised county supervisors on Friday. When it finds concerning information, the company will alert the Sheriff’s Office.
Any concerning information unearthed through the program is shared with the Sheriff’s Office, whose officers decide how to proceed with it.
“When they find something, they send us a ping and tell us, ‘You might want to look at this,’” York said.
Warren County Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree told supervisors that a meeting was held with leaders of the county’s school districts outside Glens Falls. They were told about and in favor of the Sheriff’s Office contracting with Social Sentinel. Glens Falls schools work with Glens Falls Police.
“They are all on board with what we want to do here,” Lamouree said. “They see the value of it.”
Lamouree said a number of school districts in the county already use similar technology to watch students’ school-issued email accounts and school-issued laptops for threats.
Queensbury school Superintendent Doug Huntley said he was aware the Sheriff’s Office may start using Social Sentinel’s technology, and that the program is potentially useful. Although the school district would not have to spend any money for it, he said he planned to brief the school board about it.
“They aren’t getting into private information,” Huntley said. “It gives the Sheriff’s Office an alert so they can give us an alert.”
Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Michael Wild questioned whether the effort was “Big Brother”-like and an “invasion of privacy.” He also questioned who would be monitored and whether residents and visitors would be scrutinized.
York, though, reiterated that the programs mine information from public social media activity only. Social Sentinel spokesman Alison Miley said the program can be used for school-related information only.