Report: LAPD Collects Social Media Data with Little Oversight

Police Car in LA

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles Police Department gives broad authorization to its officers to collect social media data from people they interact with on patrol, the nonprofit Brennan Center For Justice reported today.

According to the law and public policy institute based at the NYU School of Law, the LAPD's Social Media User Guide encourages officers to monitor social media and allows them to create a “fictitious online persona to engage in investigative activity.'' The guide includes little guidance and oversight of the surveillance, and the Brennan Center reported that officers don't have to document the searches, their purpose or justifications.

In a letter responding to a record request from the Brennan Center, the LAPD said it does not track what its employees monitor on social media and has not conducted audits on the department's use of social media.

The Brennan Center obtained 6,000 pages in 10 sets of documents from the department. The documents revealed that the department instructs officers to use field interview cards to collect social media information from people they interact with during patrol.

“When completing a FI Report, officers should ask for a person's social media and e-mail account information and include it in the `Additional Info' box,'' the document said. The Brennan Center said that it reviewed 40 other cities' field interview cards and, while details were sparse, it did not find that any other department uses them to collect social media accounts.

The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

At the LAPD, the cards are loaded into the data analytics and surveillance system Palantir. According to the Brennan Center, officers are able to search the system to see a person of interest's movements, personal relationships, DMV records, employment data, arrest records, field interview card data, and data from license plate readers.

The LAPD is set to begin using a new social media surveillance tool, Media Sonar, this year, the Brennan Center reported. The web intelligence technology identifies connections between people and builds individual profiles. According to a document obtained by the Brennan Center, the platform will give officers “a full digital snapshot of an individual's online presence including all related personas and connections.'' It uses data from more than 300 sources with 2 billion records.

The Brennan Center for Justice is a think tank and advocacy organization. Its goals include ending mass incarceration, protecting citizens' privacy and promoting voting rights and democracy. The organization was founded in 1995 and named after Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan for his “commitment to a fair and inclusive democracy, support for the disadvantaged and respect for individual rights and liberties.''

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