Los Angeles police have been caught practicing a major invasion of privacy. In a new report, it's been revealed that LA police will collect social media and other private information from people they stop. Even worse, this breach of civilian privacy has been happening for years.
What information do LA police collect?
Revealed in a 6,000-page investigation by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, LA cops collect a lot of information. Sorted by The Register, it's said that the police force usernames, email addresses, and profile page URLs of civilians they pull over. The officers are also permitted to collect a person’s social security number.
All of the corrected information is recorded on field interview card which are then stored away for other officers to look at. Additionally, every card is said to be checked over by supervisors to “ensure... [they're] complete and valid”.
Police officers are explicitly told not to use personal accounts to investigate collected social media accounts. However, they are instructed to use a “fictitious online persona” if they need to investigate a person.
The Brennan Center for Justice checked 40 other US cities to check if field interview cards were common practice. They're not. As it stands, Los Angeles police is the only section of American law enforcement to do so.
Anti-left trends rear their heads
Field interview cards are allegedly used in conjunction with AI crime prediction technology. Furthermore, LA police checks cards against a large collection of monitored keywords and hashtags on social media.
The report shows that the LAPD constantly monitor left-wing social movements. For example, Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump protest posts are monitored. However, right-wing protests like anti-vaccine and Proud Boys rallies are not. This is despite the fact that Proud Boys are classed as a white supremacist, terrorist group.
Why is this dangerous?
Firstly, collection of unnecessary information like private social media accounts is a considerable breach of privacy. Secondly, the Brennan Center states that collected information predominantly belongs to minority groups.
The Brennan Center believes the police is using this information for “network mapping”. In this, the police label one person as a gang member and then give that same label to friends on social media. Additionally, officers are allegedly already falsely labelling people as gang members on identity cards.
Mary Pat Dwyer of The Brennan Center told The Register:
“There is no justification for using those tools to trawl through people’s social media. Surveillance can have a chilling effect on how people behave. If they know that the police are going to be looking at their social media, they might be disincentivized from speaking freely or expressing their first amendment rights.”