According to documents obtained from the Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), officers are instructed to gather email addresses and social media account information when interviewing people they have detained.
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The Brennan Center requested public records from the LAPD and other police departments in major cities. It found that the LAPD instructed its officers to collect information on social media accounts from anyone they meet using a field interview (FIC) card. After the Brennan Center sued, the LAPD initially refused to make documents public but provided over 6,000 pages.
In May 2015, Charlie Beck, then chief of the LAPD, wrote in a memo that officers should request information about a person's social media accounts and e-mail addresses when completing a FI Report. This was to be included in the 'Additional Info" box. The memo stated that this includes Facebook profiles, Instagram and Twitter.
Even though this may seem unusual, the LAPD has been doing it since years. Mary Pat Dwyer (a fellow at the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program) wrote that "apparently, nothing bars officers filling out FI card for every interaction they engage in while on patrol." "Notably, although we reviewed information about FI cards from 40 cities, we did not find any other police departments using the cards to collect data on social media. However, details are scarce." Dwyer explained to Ars that the center had reviewed "publicly accessible documents" to see if other police departments collect social media data during field interviews. However, he said that most aren't very transparent.
Dwyer explained to Ars that while people can choose not to provide their social media accounts details to officers, many people might not be aware of their rights and feel pressured into giving the information. She explained that courts have found that asking people for voluntary information and stopping them doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment. People are allowed to not respond. People may not feel the freedom to leave without answering, depending on how they were stopped. They might not be aware of their rights or may want to end the situation quickly by giving information to stop it from escalating.
The Brennan Center also has been looking for records from police departments in New York City, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and Boston since January 2020. However, it is still trying to obtain all requested information.
Data Enables Large-Scale Monitoring
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police's model policy for pat-down searches and field interviews, a field interview is "a brief detention of an individual on foot or in vehicle for the purpose of determining their identity and resolving officer's suspicions regarding criminal activity." A significant role can be played in investigations by field-interview cards.
Dwyer explained that these cards allow for large-scale surveillance of the people they are collecting as well as their family members, friends, and associates, even those who are not suspected of any crime. Palantir is a system that allows the LAPD to aggregate data from many sources in order to improve its surveillance and analysis capabilities.
Officers have broad discretion when choosing who they record information about. In some cases, officers may falsify the information. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that officers from the LAPD had allegedly falsified field interviews cards depicting people as gang members. According to the Times, the "Metropolitan Division" of the LAPD made up around 4 percent of its force, but it accounted for more that 20 percent of field interview cards the department issued in the last 18 months. These cards can be filled out by police officers "to record encounters they have" with anyone they ask on their beat, the report said.