We already know a few things about the Los Angeles Police Department.
We know already that Black people make up 8.9 percent of the city’s population. According to the police department’s own data, in 2019, L.A.’s Black residents were two times more likely to be stopped by cops than whites and four times more likely to be searched. Unsurprisingly, we also know that white Los Angelenos are more likely to have illegal contraband than any other racial demographic in California’s largest city.
And now, according to documents uncovered by the Brennan Center for Justice, we now know that LAPD officers have been instructed by officials at the highest level to collect social media information from every person they arrest, search or even stop, to feed it into a national “predictive policing” database. They also have the permission to create fake profiles and monitor people who have not been charged with a crime. And after collecting this information, the officers are instructed to do...whatever.
Seriously, there are no safeguards, privacy protection or even departmental policy for how cops handle digital surveillance or private information in an agency previously cited by the Department of Justice as “engaging in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful conduct.”
The Brennan Center reports:
Among the LAPD documents, the department’s 2015 Social Media User Guide shows that the department encourages social media monitoring but has issued little guidance and imposed minimal oversight over officers’ surveillance on social media platforms. The department allows officers to create a “Fictitious Online Persona” and use the personas for numerous purposes:
Few limitations offset this broad authority: officers need not document the searches they conduct, their purpose, or the justification. They are not required to seek supervisory approval, and the guide offers no standards for the types of cases that warrant social media surveillance. While officers are instructed not to conduct social media surveillance for personal, illicit, or illegal purposes, they seem otherwise to have complete discretion over whom to surveil, how broadly to track their online activity, and how long to monitor them.
In the same policy, the department encourages social media “listening,” which is broadly defined... The policy also imposes no limits upon this “continuous” monitoring and does not require oversight to determine whether it is being deployed inappropriately or discriminatorily.
But remember, it’s mostly Black people.
That’s probably why, according to a letter responding to the Brennan Center’s FOIA request, the agency 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.”
But the LAPD doesn’t just allow officers to collect social media info from people they arrest or detain. According to documents, the department instructs law enforcement officers to enter this data from encounters into “field interviews” cards before feeding the information into surveillance tools such as their new Media Sonar system and Palantir.
Why should you be worried about this if you haven’t committed a crime?
Well, these data-based systems have been used to monitor and surveil activists around the country. Just the Black ones, though. Law enforcement officers used them to target protesters in Memphis, Tenn. The Massachusetts state police monitored activists using similar software. Boston did, too. And New Orleans used a secret CIA-backed database for years. What was that one called?
Oh, that’s right. It was Palantir.
I’m sure the LAPD is different, though. There’s no reason to suspect they would use unregulated personal information to target Black people like they did when the DOJ caught them. Or when Yale professor Ian Ayres found “substantial racial disparities” in 2015. Or when the department found racial disparities in its own force in 2018. And 2019. And, quite literally, every single time they look.
But just for shits and giggles, let’s see what kind of gang-related criminal activity the cops are searching for. Here’s a list of hashtags they use to monitor events:
I stand uncorrected. But I’m sure it’ll be fine. Remember, it’s mostly just Black people...
Quite literally, every single time we look.