There has been considerable reporting recently on the Los Angeles Police Department’s gathering, monitoring and use of people’s social media information. The practice isn’t new. The LAPD had a place for “social media accounts” on its field interview (FI) cards at least as far back in 2015. These cards can be used whenever someone is questioned for any reason -– even if they’ve stopped on the street -– whether they’re arrested or not.
However, an extensive investigation by the Brennan Center for Justice has brought the practice to light and shows just how the LAPD can use this information. It’s also elicited a response from the LAPD. It said, in part, “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.”
High-tech and low-tech surveillance of social media
So what happens to the FI information, including social media accounts, after it’s collected? According to the Brennan Center, it’s input into a surveillance and data analytics system called Palantir that’s searchable by officers. It helps them see everything from DMV records to employment information to personal relationships and more.
The Brennan Center investigation found that the LAPD will soon begin using a social media surveillance system called Media Sonar. One of the documents reviewed in the investigation said that the new tool would provide “a full digital snapshot of an individual’s online presence including all related personas and connections.”
The investigation found that the LAPD also uses lower-tech methods of social media surveillance, including simply monitoring activity by creating a “fictitious online persona to engage in investigative activity.”
You’re not required to provide this information
You can decline to give your social media information to authorities. However, one attorney with the Brennan Center notes that “depending on the circumstances of a stop, people may not feel that freedom to walk away without responding. They may not know their rights, or they may be hoping to quickly end the encounter by providing information in order to ensure it doesn’t escalate.”
It’s crucial to understand and protect your rights in any encounter with law enforcement, during and after an arrest and in the courts. That’s why it’s wise to seek legal guidance as soon as possible if you are the subject of an investigation or have been placed under arrest.