Facebook Demands LAPD End Social Media Monitoring and Use of Fake Accounts | Monitoring
Facebook is demanding that the Los Angeles Police Department cease all use of “fake” accounts on its platforms and stop collecting user data for surveillance purposes.
The letter, addressed to LAPD chief Michel Moore on Thursday, comes after the Guardian contacted Facebook about two stories that revealed the department had partnered up in 2019 with Voyager Labs, a tech company that claims it can predict “emerging threats” and solve the crime. by analyzing social media information such as a person’s friends, posts, and usernames.
Documents obtained by the Brennan Center and reviewed by the Guardian show that in addition to allowing law enforcement clients to collect and analyze user data from companies like Facebook, the Voyager software also enables its law enforcement clients using fake accounts to gain access to otherwise inaccessible and private users. information.
Facebook says both of these uses are in violation of its policies. The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“It has also come to our attention that the LAPD has used a third-party provider to collect data on our platforms about our users,” the letter said. “Under our policies, developers are prohibited from using data obtained from our platforms for monitoring purposes, including processing platform data about individuals, groups or events for the purposes of law enforcement or national security. “
It is not known if the LAPD used the fake profile feature while working with Voyager. Emails show an LAPD tech official said the feature that allows police to “log in with fake accounts that are already friends with the target subject” was a “great feature,” but suggested that the department was not going in the direction of using this service. . Documents also suggest that some LAPD staff who were testing Voyager’s services had requested the “active person” feature for Facebook, Instagram and Telegram, appearing to refer to the fake account feature.
In a September 2019 email, an LAPD official in the Theft and Homicide division told Voyager that the bogus profile service was a “necessary” feature.
The documents the Brennan Center obtained through public document requests included a video from the LAPD that instructed agents how to preserve Facebook and Instagram accounts and recommended that agents use fake profiles to do so. “Remember, don’t use your personal account as you could appear on the suspect’s newsfeed as friends you may know,” the detective said in the video. “Make sure you create a fictitious account. It’s easy to set up a dummy account and if you need help you can always refer to detectives in your area.
LAPD has policies for “online undercover activity” which set out certain restrictions for this tactic, including requiring special approval from a supervisor if the police use a fake account to contact someone, but there is less oversight if an account is created to examine “trends” or to “conduct research”. The policies state that “the use of a fictitious online character to engage in investigative activity” is not subject to approval by the Police Commission, a supervisory board which grants approval for other types of undercover operations.
Records show the LAPD had conversations this year about an ongoing partnership with Voyager, but a police spokesperson told The Guardian on Monday that the department is not currently using the software.
In its letter, Facebook reiterated that the use of fake accounts was a violation of their policies and said the LAPD should “cease all activities on Facebook that involve the use of fake accounts, identity theft and data collection for surveillance purposes “.
“People on our platforms speak up, connect with others to promote common causes, share personal experiences and organize activities protected by the First Amendment,” reads the letter, signed by the vice president and general counsel corporate civil rights assistant, Roy. L Austin Jr, read. “It is our intention that they do so in an area free from any illegal surveillance by the government or agents acting inauthentically.”
This is at least the second time Facebook has to demand that a police department stop using fake social media profiles in its investigations. In 2018, Facebook disabled accounts used by police in Memphis, Tennessee, under false names. An account, under the name of Bob Smith, was used to befriend and collect information on activists. At the time, Facebook told the police department that it should “stop all activity on Facebook involving the use of fake accounts or identity theft.”
“There is no excuse the LAPD didn’t know about it,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center, adding that she hoped Facebook’s letter to LAPD would serve as a warning to the LAPD. law enforcement agencies and software companies other than law enforcement cannot conduct surveillance or infiltration on Facebook’s platforms.
“This is really important in helping to ensure the protection of racial justice and social justice activists,” she said, noting that these types of social media monitoring programs disproportionately affect organizers of color. . “These are basic civil rights protections, not letting police officers or detectives infiltrate undercover groups online in ways that can be really hard to uncover.”