LA police officers collect the social media handles of every citizen they stop and interview, regardless of whether they’re suspects or bystanders. It appears the department is gathering the information for the purpose of current and future investigations.
This information has come forward thanks to a lengthy struggle between the Brennan Center for Justice and the LAPD. In 2020 the center submitted a request to the LAPD for information on the LAPD’s use of social media.
The LAPD was eventually taken to the Los Angeles Superior Court before finally releasing the required information.
The info reveals that for years, the LAPD has been collecting social media information—usernames, email addresses, and profile page URLs—from people stopped and spoken to by police officers. This was the case even if the stop was a random check and the officer finds nothing incriminating.
Officers write the information on “field interview” cards. The department stores these indefinitely for possible future use. The cards also have a place for logging an interviewee’s social security number. Many citizens don’t know that they don’t have to provide it if asked.
The documents go on to reveal that the department directs officers to not use their personal accounts to view social media. Instead, the department advises they log requests via a social media firm’s official channels.
Officers also have leeway to create “fake” social media accounts in order to investigate.
Social Media Surveillance
Brennan Center points out that the ultimate goal of these activities is to forward information to a Palanthir-built system. This system will monitor people and attempt to establish connections between civilians.
Palanthir is a software company that builds systems for defense and intelligence purposes, although its activities are broadening slightly.
In this vein, the report shows that the LAPD has a unit focused on “predictive policing”. This unit works to identify “hot-spots” and anticipate incidents. It’s been noted that the LAPD has been monitoring social media like Twitter for hashtags and keywords related to movements like Black Lives Matter.
According to the Brennan Center, out of 40 other US police departments it looked at, none have been gathering social media handles for the purpose of establishing these background check style databases.
Concerned citizens can set their profiles to private in order to dodge commercial people searching services and cops posing under pseudonyms.
With a warrant and co-operation from a firm, the LAPD can potentially reach anyone they’ve obtained social media handles from.