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How the LAPD’s collection of social media data could affect you

On Behalf of | Oct 4, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

If you’re stopped by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and questioned about anything, don’t be surprised if an officer asks for your social media account information. That’s just one piece of personal information on the LAPD’s field interview (FI) card. 

The practice isn’t new. However, it’s received a lot of attention since the Brennan Center for Justice sued the department to gain access to thousands of documents. 

A field interview may be conducted whenever a pedestrian or driver is detained by an officer, ostensibly based on “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity or knowledge of it. Officers have considerable discretion in whom to detain and on whom to gather information. A Los Angeles Times report last year found that one LAPD division “played an outsized role in the production of those cards.”

Data is aggregated and analyzed

What’s particularly concerning, according to an attorney with the Brennan Center, is how this social media account information is used. It’s input in a system “through which the LAPD aggregates data from a wide array of sources to increase its surveillance and analytical capabilities.” 

It looks like the gathering and use of social media information is only going to become more sophisticated. Another surveillance system is being added to the LAPD’s tracking arsenal.

You’re not required to provide this information

It needs to be emphasized that no one is legally required to give any social media account or access information to any officer. However, many people believe they’re required to answer officers’ questions –- particularly when they don’t relate specifically to any criminal activity. Others simply feel pressured to do so or hope that cooperating will help them be on their way faster. The LAPD hasn’t said what its officers are instructed to do if someone declines to provide the information.

Even if you don’t live or work in LA and don’t even visit the city, this practice could affect you. According to the Brennan Center, the new surveillance tool has the ability to “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.”

If you believe that any law enforcement agency has obtained information (accurate or not) on you illegally and that information has been used to bring criminal charges against you, it’s crucial that you seek legal guidance to protect your rights.