LAPD Responds To Report On Practice Of Monitoring, Collecting Social Media

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In response to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice that the Los Angeles Police Department gives broad authorization to its officers to collect social media data from people they interact with on patrol, the LAPD claimed today that social media handles can be “critical pieces of contact information.''

The Brennan Center, based at New York University School of Law, obtained 6,000 pages in 10 sets of documents from the department, which revealed that officers are instructed 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 email 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 responded Thursday saying, “The information on these cards is used to help our officers memorialize what was said in field interviews and stay in contact with people who can help us solve crimes. Social media handles can be critical pieces of contact information, along with phone numbers and email addresses, because people communicate through social media now just as frequently as they do through calls, texts or emails. The LAPD is here to keep Angelenos safe, and we are committed to protecting their privacy rights as we confront that challenge every day.''

At the LAPD, the cards are loaded into the data analytics and surveillance system Palantir, according to the Brennan Center, which said it found that officers are able to search that 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 also found that 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 records 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 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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