On Wednesday, it was revealed that officers with the Los Angeles Police Department have been gathering information on social media accounts from all civilians they interview, regardless of whether or not they were arrested or accused of a crime.
According to The Guardian, copies of the "field interview cards" that police fill out when interviewing and questioning civilians reveal that LAPD officers are instructed to record a civilian's social media accounts, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, alongside basic information like name and date of birth.
Police Chief Michel Moore was revealed in an internal memo to have told officers that gathering social media accounts was crucial for use in "investigations, arrests, and prosecutions," and warned that cards would be reviewed to ensure they were complete.
The documents were obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-profit organization. The Center has raised concerns over the revelation, which brings the future potential for mass surveillance of civilians without justification.
"There are real dangers about police having all of this social media identifying information at their fingertips," said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a deputy director at the Brennan Center, who noted that the information was potentially being stored and could be used for a variety of purposes in the future.
The Center reviewed 40 other police agencies in the US to see if the gathering of social media accounts was happening in other departments, but could not find any other occurrences.
On the field interview cards, the line requiring the documentation of a person's social media accounts was added in 2015.
"Similar to a nickname or an alias, a person's online persona or identity used for social media … can be highly beneficial to investigations," former LAPD chief Charlie Beck wrote in an uncovered memo.
The field interview cards have previously been met with scrutiny, after three officers had criminal charges filed against them for falsely labeling civilians as gang members, which is a box noted on the cards.
"The fact that a department under scrutiny for racial profiling was also engaged in broad scale social media account collection is troubling," said Levinson-Waldman, according to The Guardian.
Levinson-Waldman also noted that the obtaining of social media usernames allows the opportunity for police to surveil a person's interactions, connections, and friends online, potentially creating a breach of privacy.
"It allows for a huge expansion of network surveillance," she said.
This data collected by the LAPD is shared with federal law enforcement agencies through "fusion centers," noted Hamid Khan of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. These federal law enforcement agencies have previously used "predictive policing" technologies that relies on this data collected by police.
"This is like stop and frisk," Khan said, in regards to the field interview cards' use. "And this is happening with the clear goal of surveillance."
On Tuesday, the LAPD told The Guardian that the field interview card policy was "being updated." They did not provide further details.