Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers used fake online personas to monitor social media users, and at one point considered employing tools that critics say would lead to law enforcement profiling innocent people, according to recently revealed government documents.
The documents, released by the Brennan Center for Justice following an open records request with the LAPD, have raised concerns among critics that law enforcement’s online surveillance operations harm freedom of expression and encourage profiling.
“Social media surveillance can facilitate surveillance of protest activity and police presence at protests, which can chill both online and offline speech,” the organization said. “Further, the highly contextual nature of social media also makes it ripe for misinterpretation.”
The Brennan Center released an initial set of documents in September, showing that LAPD officers use fake social media accounts to monitor online activity. The FBI and other federal intelligence agencies are restricted from using such tactics under a Reagan-era executive order that require agents to reveal their identities when participating in private organizations.
“Social media situational awareness is gained by the passive and active searching for information impacting operations, including information found in discussion forums, posts, videos, and blogs,” a 2015 LAPD social media user guide says, adding. “In this capacity, social media use can be covert and/or clandestine.”