The LAPD Is Asking City Residents To Hand Over Social Media Account Info To Feed To Its Unsupervised Monitoring Software

from the badge-sporting-amateur-anglers dept

Documents obtained via public records requests by the Brennan Center reveal the Los Angeles Police Department has made social media part of its everyday business. The LAPD is wholly embracing the 21st century. This doesn’t mean its public relations department is making the most of numerous platforms to address citizens’ concerns and engage in more transparency.

No, it just means LAPD officers can be just as stalker-ish as disgruntled exes or future employers.

The Los Angeles Police Department authorizes its officers to engage in extensive surveillance of social media without internal monitoring of the nature or effectiveness of the searches, according to the results of a public records request filed by the Brennan Center. (h/t Michael Vario)

And beginning this year, the department is adding a new social media surveillance tool: Media Sonar, which can build detailed profiles on individuals and identify links between them. This acquisition increases opportunities for abuse by expanding officers’ ability to conduct wide-ranging social media surveillance.

The LAPD has been doing this for years, if its “2015 Social Media User Guide” [PDF] is any indication. At that point, the LAPD was already doing plenty of social media monitoring. The guide mentions things like oversight, seeking approval for certain forms of monitoring, and the possibility of First and Fourth Amendment violations.

However, it also mentions the use of fictitious personas to engage in undercover investigations and the use of fictitious personas to engage in fishing expeditions.

The use of a Fictitious Online Persona to engage in investigative activity. Fictitious Online Personas created for the purposes of identifying and examining trends and tactics, developing profiles, or conducting research does not constitute online undercover activity.

That doesn’t trouble the LAPD. There are no rules for this. Long-term surveillance of people suspected of nothing utilizing fictitious accounts that might give officers access to non-public posts and messages is something the LAPD performs in an accountability vacuum, constitutional concerns be damned.

That document says no permission is needed and no oversight governs these activities. Other documents obtained by the Brennan Center confirm the LAPD’s hands-off approach to long-term social media monitoring — some which involves officers engaged in subterfuge indistinguishable from the “Online Undercover Activity” more closely governed by rules applying to ongoing investigations.

Despite endowing its officers with broad authority to surveil social media, the LAPD has done little to ensure these powers aren’t abused. According to a letter responding to our records request, it does “not track what (if anything) [its] employees monitor[]” on social media sites and “has not conducted any audits regarding the use of social media.”

Great. So we don’t know how much surveillance unrelated to criminal investigations occurs under the LAPD’s unwatchful, presumably-closed eye. We also don’t know how many times officers have broken what few rules govern their online interactions and passive surveillance. We also don’t know whether this always-on monitoring has had any impact on law enforcement activities, like providing new leads or evidence in other criminal cases. And even if it has, the unanswered question remains: why is the LAPD keeping an eye on people it doesn’t have any reasonable suspicion are engaged in criminal activity?

Just as worrying is the paperwork filled out by beat cops during “field interviews,” which encompass everything from speaking to crime witnesses/victims to whatever city residents the LAPD interacts with during its patrols. Not only are these cards used to keep the LAPD’s extremely questionable gang database stocked with alleged gang members, but they encourage officers to ask for information they have no legal reason to demand — like Social Security Numbers or, as is relevant here, “social media account(s).”

All of this information gets fed into the LAPD’s databases and social media monitoring tools, like Media Sonar. It’s all called “intelligence,” even if it’s little more than bait for social media fishing expeditions by cops with the time and the tech to waste on efforts that do little to reduce crime or contribute to ongoing investigations. And this seems to be a uniquely LA thing: the Brennan Center says its review of “field interview” cards (which covers 40 US cities at this point) has yet to uncover any other law enforcement agency seeking to collect information about people’s social media accounts.

This doesn’t mean no other police departments are trying to collect this information. It just means the LAPD feels this is an acceptable thing to ask people for during field interviews and its reliance on social media monitoring software to do its investigative work for it. The LAPD appears to be doing this simply because no one — not department officials, internal oversight, external oversight, or judges at any level of the court system — has told the PD it can’t.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The LAPD Is Asking City Residents To Hand Over Social Media Account Info To Feed To Its Unsupervised Monitoring Software”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Rich says:

Social Surveillance

I work at a school, and since about 1995 I have done everything I can to instill one very simple concept above all else:
Never, ever, EVER put anything on the Internet that you don’t want everyone to see.

The LAPD are much like any organization, business, or other agency composed of many people working toward a common goal. Given enough time, along with incentives to forward the common goal, the ethics and morality of the group-think will always decline until they eventually hit the lowest limits of "standards" deemed acceptable by the worst of the group’s participants. They simply can’t help themselves, which takes us back to my previous statement.

The Internet is full of farmers. They plant "privacy policy" seeds, carefully cultivate crops of your data, which is eventually harvested and sold to the highest bidder, or whoever else waves a fistful of cash at them.

So, stop acting so surprised when people know things that you have effectively broadcast on the Internet using media run by companies who’s entire business model is packaging and selling your information, while assuring you that they aren’t.

That is all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Social Surveillance

And then you have total surveilance states like Singapore.

Also, reminder that East Germany was only 50-odd years ago and WW2 was only 10 or so years before.

And that Rupert Murdoch’s yellow journalism empire were brought to court for illegal wiretapping and hacking.

It’s one thing when you have to watch your mouth, lest you become the victim of social media policy enforcement, like that one black author from Games Workshop found out unfortunately. It’s another when there’s authoritarian overtones to the advice.

I hope you posted in good faith. I’m here to say that watching what one says is probably inapplicable in some scenarios.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Social Surveillance

Of course I posted in "good faith".

"It’s one thing when you have to watch your mouth, lest you become the victim of social media policy enforcement, like that one black author from Games Workshop found out unfortunately. It’s another when there’s authoritarian overtones to the advice."

In no way am I suggesting that people should or should not say whatever they want, but just remember that when one is by oneself, typing on a keyboard in a secluded room in one’s own home, any privacy such a location would normally provide is null and void when online. In many ways, the online world is like the real world. Would you stand in the middle of a crowd and recount your potentially illegal exploits, or ideas about how to commit various act of violence to anyone within earshot and then complain that a police officer in the crowd now has some very serious questions to ask you? It’s the same thing.

Again, it’s really, really simple: Don’t put anything on the internet you don’t want everyone to see. Repeat it to yourself a few times. Maybe print it out and stick it to your monitor, or phone, or whatever the hell device you use to latch on to the online world.

If you are comfortable with standing up in a crowd detailing your life’s deeds, or whatever opinions you might hold, go right ahead. But if you say things in a public forum, don’t complain if people hear you.

As far as Social Media policies are concerned, how exactly do you "become a victim" of a policy you agree to?

And, since I am venting, would somebody please tell all of the dummies out there that keep lamenting the woes of the Social Media giants with phrases such as "who put Mark Zuckerberg, or Jack Dorsey in charge of what we can say??" that the answer is simple: YOU did, as well as everyone else who signs in and takes it seriously. MZ and JD didn’t just pop into existence out of nowhere. They were put there by their users, so stop whining that the people who let you use their stuff for free want to have some minor influence in what you use it for. Why would this surprise you?? Have you never lent a car to someone with some expectation that they won’t do stupid things with it? If you don’t want them to influence what you say, stop using their garbage platforms and do something meaningful with your life.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Crafty Coyote says:

You need to know about what Fictitious Online Personas lookslike- if you’re a single guy living in Los Angeles and you get a message from a potential girlfriend named "Emma Copp", just say no. Her profile might have her wearing the Sexy Police Officer Halloween costume and she might say she’s into handcuffs and leather, but just say no.

Anonymous Coward says:

I hear the police read the newspaper too. If someone confesses to a crime in a letter to the editor I think the police have the right and duty to look into it. Same as if someone puts up a billboard on their front lawn saying "I did this crime." Posting your crimes on fascbook is no different. I have a relative who is a cop and she says they get lots of leads and arrests this way. They don’t look at every person’s fascbook page, just people that pop up on their radar. It’s efficient and we want the government to spend our money wisely, right?

Now, of course, if LAPD is getting a searchable firehose of data from a fascbook API, and especially if they are getting peoples’ private fascbook pages, that is different, and something to be very concerned about.

And then there is this: I sure hope LAPD is investigating LASD using fascbook, though I seem to doubt it.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...