The Los Angeles Police Department asked officers to gather social media information as a standard part of their interviews with civilians, whether or not the people were implicated in a crime. The practice, revealed in public records obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice, is part of a larger LAPD social media monitoring strategy — one that’s similar to other US police department policies but may go beyond them.
As the Brennan Center notes, a 2015 memo from LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck told the department that “similar to a nickname or an alias, a person’s online persona or identity used for social media and communication can be highly beneficial to investigations and possibly even future outreach programs.” Beck said that officers should collect “social media and email account information” when filling out field interview report forms — which were updated to specifically ask about social media data.
Previous reporting has indicated that the LAPD aggregates field interview information into a database run by surveillance company Palantir. Officers are allowed — but not required — to enter field interview cards for anyone they come into contact with. Broadly collecting social media data could leave people who are stopped by police vulnerable to additional online surveillance regardless of whether they’re officially under investigation. An LAPD spokesperson told The Guardian that the interview forms were being “updated” but didn’t describe what the update includes, and the LAPD’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification from The Verge.
The newly released documents also offer more details about how the LAPD has worked with online surveillance companies — a practice many police departments participate in. In 2016, the LAPD apparently employed Twitter analytics firm Dataminr (whose access Twitter later limited) to receive alerts around shooting and bomb threats, but also to track the movements of anti-Trump protesters on May Day. The department also used tracking service Geofeedia (which was cut off by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to monitor protest-related keywords including #BlackLivesMatter and #FuckDonaldTrump. More recently, the LAPD has apparently entered a contract with Media Sonar — which pitches the ability to “automatically find digital footprints in the matter of seconds.”