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LAPD Social Media Monitoring Documents

Documents related to LAPD’s use of social media monitoring.

Last Updated: December 15, 2021
Published: September 8, 2021

On Janu­ary 30, 2020, the Bren­nan Center submit­ted a request under the Cali­for­nia Public Records Act (CPRA) to the Los Angeles Police Depart­ment (LAPD) for inform­a­tion on the depart­ment’s use of social media to collect inform­a­tion about indi­vidu­als, groups, and activ­it­ies.

Read the CPRA request here.

The LAPD acknow­ledged receipt of the Bren­nan Center’s request and sent a partial response on Febru­ary 24, 2020, with two docu­ments that had already been released publicly. On March 12, 2020, the LAPD produced one addi­tional docu­ment and closed the request. These responses did not include mater­i­als that had already been made avail­able in response to other public records requests or referred to in media articles, indic­at­ing that the LAPD’s search was defi­cient. On Novem­ber 17, 2020, the Bren­nan Center filed a lawsuit in the Super­ior Court of Cali­for­nia, County of Los Angeles, with assist­ance from our pro bono coun­sel, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The suit chal­lenged the LAPD’s inad­equate search and fail­ure to produce respons­ive docu­ments. In response, the LAPD released supple­mental produc­tions between March and Septem­ber 2021.

The LAPD’s Produc­tions

In total, the Bren­nan Center has received twelve sets of docu­ments total­ing over 10,000 pages.

The initial produc­tion consists of memos outlining guidelines for officers’ use of social media. A memo from Octo­ber 2018 outlines proced­ures to create an offi­cial LAPD social media account and policies that govern officer conduct on social media for offi­cial busi­ness and personal use. These guidelines do not apply to approved under­cover activ­ity on social media. A memo from March 2015 intro­duces the LAPD’s Social Media User Guide, which provides direc­tion on Depart­ment-sanc­tioned uses of social media to advance the LAPD’s community rela­tions mission, develop situ­ational aware­ness, and act as an invest­ig­at­ive tool. The Guide also briefly addresses the First and Fourth Amend­ment implic­a­tions of police officers’ use of social media to monitor or collect inform­a­tion.

Each series after the first produc­tion is labeled with consec­ut­ive letters. The A-Series consists of a memo from the LAPD’s Chief of Detect­ives dated April 27, 2018, direct­ing concerned person­nel to retain inform­a­tion gleaned from social media that “may disap­pear before, during, or after a crime.” The memo advises that retain­ing this inform­a­tion enables invest­ig­at­ors to obtain a warrant for a social media account more easily. In a later produc­tion, the LAPD produced an instruc­tional video on how officers can preserve inform­a­tion from social media; the video insinu­ates that African-Amer­ican men who dress profes­sion­ally in court are gang members “in real life,” and urges officers to set up a “dummy account” in order to access profiles on the plat­form.

The B-series includes three excerpts of emer­gency oper­a­tions guides from 2009 and 2010 that direct officers to use social media tools to manage or gather inform­a­tion about “emer­gent” or “signi­fic­ant incid­ents.” The last page instructs the LAPD’s intel­li­gence group to coordin­ate surveil­lance activ­it­ies on social media, media inform­a­tion, and inter­net “chat and post­ings.”

The C-Series encom­passes several docu­ments, includ­ing a section of the Depart­ment Manual that describes the Computer Stat­ist­ics Divi­sion (COMPSTAT), the LAPD divi­sion respons­ible for imple­ment­ing, eval­u­at­ing, and audit­ing the produc­tion and dissem­in­a­tion of all crime analysis products, includ­ing social media monit­or­ing soft­ware– although the Bren­nan Center did not receive any audits of social media monit­or­ing tools as part of the LAPD’s produc­tion. COMPSTAT is also respons­ible for provid­ing train­ing and support for Palantir soft­ware and prepar­ing predict­ive poli­cing reports weekly. (Palantir is a soft­ware company special­iz­ing in big-data analyt­ics that developed and sells predict­ive poli­cing soft­ware to local and federal law enforce­ment agen­cies.) The C-Series also includes a docu­ment setting out the Organ­iz­a­tion and Func­tions of the LAPD’s Community Rela­tion­ship Divi­sion, an office within the LAPD respons­ible for social media monit­or­ing until it was disban­ded in the fall of 2018.

The D-series includes the Intel­li­gence Guidelines for the Anti-Terror­ism Intel­li­gence Section of the LAPD’s Major Crimes Divi­sion. Among other guidelines, this docu­ment defines and distin­guishes Online Invest­ig­at­ive Activ­ity (OIA) and Online Under­cover Activ­ity (OUA) for terror­ism invest­ig­a­tions. Though both involve the use of a “Ficti­tious Online Persona” as part of an invest­ig­a­tion, OUA involves “on-going inter­act­ive commu­nic­a­tion […] with an iden­ti­fied person or group and is related to an ongo­ing Terror­ism Intel­li­gence Invest­ig­a­tion,” while OIA appears to account for all other online invest­ig­at­ive activ­ity using a ficti­tious account. Further­more, while officers engaged in OUA require depart­mental approval, OIA is mostly unreg­u­lated and does not require approval. The Guidelines specify that “Ficti­tious Online Perso­nas created for the purposes of identi­fy­ing and examin­ing terror­ist trends and tactics, devel­op­ing profiles, or conduct­ing threat assess­ments does not consti­tute Online Under­cover Activ­ity,” mean­ing that LAPD person­nel can engage in a signi­fic­ant amount of under­cover monit­or­ing online without depart­mental over­sight or account­ab­il­ity.  The D-Series also includes a memo from former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck from May 2015 asking police officers to record subjects’ social media and email account inform­a­tion when complet­ing field inter­view (FI) cards.  

The E-Series includes emails between LAPD offi­cials and compan­ies that offer social media monit­or­ing services dated between March 2016 and Decem­ber 2020 – specific­ally, Geofee­dia, Skopenow, and Dataminr. From March to May 2016, officers from the LAPD’s Real-Time Analysis and Crit­ical Response Divi­sion (RACR) had a free trial with Dataminr, which was sched­uled to coin­cide with a May Day protest. The LAPD had a demo with Skopenow in June 2019, and multiple trials between Novem­ber 2018 and July 2020; Skopenow offered services includ­ing anonym­ous analysis of social media and access to the social media plat­form Parler. The docu­ments also show that the LAPD licensed and used Geofee­dia from 2014 to 2016, using funds from the privately funded LAPD Found­a­tion. However, the LAPD stopped using Geofee­dia in 2017 because Geofee­dia lost access to Twit­ter and Face­book data after public records requests from the ACLU of North­ern Cali­for­nia showed that Geofee­dia and similar compan­ies were pitch­ing their products as resources to surveil lawful protest­ers against police viol­ence.

The F-Series includes emails between the LAPD and sales repres­ent­at­ives for Babel Street, a service that surveils English and non-English language sources, dated between May 2016 and April 2020. The LAPD sched­uled a demo with Babel Street in May 2016. This series also includes corres­pond­ence with Digit­alStakeout as the LAPD prepared to apply for a grant for public safety tech­no­lo­gies through the U.S. Depart­ment of Justice, although the LAPD ulti­mately did not pursue the grant. Digit­alStakeout offers monit­or­ing services using public data from the Inter­net, social media, and the dark web. There are also unsigned copies of the LAPD’s order forms for Geofee­dia from Janu­ary 2016, which include payment for Geofee­di­a’s “systems integ­ra­tion” with Palantir, marked as “to be discussed.”

The G-Series includes email corres­pond­ence between the LAPD and Cobwebs, an AI-powered inter­net monit­or­ing service, dated between May 2019 and Octo­ber 2020. An email from the LAPD to a Cobwebs sales repres­ent­at­ive from Febru­ary 2020 states that the Robbery-Homicide divi­sion did not have the budget to license the Cobwebs plat­form. However, the officer indic­ated the LAPD was poten­tially inter­ested in licens­ing Cobwebs in prepar­a­tion for the 2028 Olympics. An email from Octo­ber 2020 indic­ates that the LA District Attor­ney’s office was trying out Cobwebs. The same month, the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide divi­sion received a quote for five Cobwebs licenses in prepar­a­tion for its Urban Areas Secur­ity Initi­at­ive (UASI) grant request applic­a­tion.

The H-Series includes email corres­pond­ence from the LAPD with Dataminr and Media Sonar dated between Decem­ber 2015 and Janu­ary 2020. The LAPD trialed Dataminr services from March to June 2016 as well as in August 2019. The docu­ments also reveal that the LAPD began receiv­ing pricing propos­als from Media Sonar in 2018 and purchased Media Sonar licenses in 2021. In a present­a­tion it submit­ted as part of its proposal to the LAPD, Media Sonar sells itself as an “online invest­ig­a­tion soft­ware” that enables users to “Detect poten­tial threats, find new leads, locate witnesses, and improve [users’] crisis manage­ment.” The present­a­tion also includes details of a “Digital Foot­print” feature that builds “a full digital snap­shot of an indi­vidu­al’s online pres­ence includ­ing all related perso­nas and connec­tions.” Media Sonar claims to have access to over three hundred data sources with two billion records compiled from public records, “crowd-sourced data,” and more.

Since 2019, the LAPD has received order forms for two annual premium pack­ages from Media Sonar, one for ten users and another for five. For the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, the LAPD applied to purchase Media Sonar licenses through Urban Areas Secur­ity Initi­at­ive (UASI) grants from the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity; these fund tech­no­lo­gies that help “high threat, high dens­ity areas” prevent and protect against terror­ism. Accord­ing to the grant applic­a­tion, the LAPD would use Media Sonar for assist­ance “in the constant search for pre-event (terror­ism) indic­at­ors, protect­ive intel­li­gence, and the effi­cient response/hand­ling of crit­ical incid­ents, whether crim­inal or terror based.” The LAPD’s UASI grant applic­a­tions for 2020 and 2021 were approved. It is unclear whether the LAPD purchased and used Media Sonar licenses from 2018–2020, but in its response to the Bren­nan Center’s ques­tions, the LAPD confirmed that it had purchased Media Sonar licenses in 2021 with funds from the UASI grant.

Further­more, the grant applic­a­tion shows that the LAPD collab­or­ates with the Joint Regional Intel­li­gence Center, the area’s fusion center, in its use of open-source social media monit­or­ing. The LAPD also produced an undated docu­ment with search terms that Geofee­dia used for the LAPD’s Community Rela­tion­ship Divi­sion, includ­ing #Black­LivesMat­ter, #Black­LivesMat­ter-LA, #SayHer­Name, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, #fuck­don­aldtrump, and others.   

The I-Series includes two docu­ments relat­ing to Field Inter­view (FI) cards. LAPD officers fill out FI cards to docu­ment people they have stopped or ques­tioned; these cards can be completed on anyone an officer comes into contact with. The first docu­ment is a July 2020 memo from the Chief of Police, Michel Moore, to all LAPD person­nel. In the memo, Chief Moore urges officers to dili­gently record all inform­a­tion in the FI cards, which would be subject to review by Depart­ment super­visors “for complete­ness and valid­ity.” As noted above, former Police Chief Charlie Beck had sent officers a memo in May 2015 telling them to collect social media and email account inform­a­tion in FI cards. The second docu­ment is a copy of the FI card form, which shows that the LAPD is gath­er­ing subjects’ date of birth and social secur­ity number, with a disclaimer stat­ing that subjects are oblig­ated to provide their social secur­ity numbers upon an officer’s request. In their Octo­ber 2020 audit of stops that the LAPD conduc­ted in 2019, the Office of the Inspector General and the Los Angeles Police Commis­sion recom­men­ded that the LAPD remove the field to collect social secur­ity numbers. Further­more, the audit notes that the LAPD should revise its policies regard­ing the FI cards, so officers don’t complete them routinely as part of stops, espe­cially after the LAPD ceased using the CalGang data­base in July 2020. The audit also emphas­izes that members of the public are not under any oblig­a­tion to answer LAPD officers’ ques­tions to aid them in filling FI cards. The FI cards also have a field to collect social media and email account inform­a­tion. The Bren­nan Center surveyed other cities’ policies regard­ing FI cards and found no other police depart­ment that collects social media and email account inform­a­tion, though details are sparse.

The J-Series, released by the Bren­nan Center on Novem­ber 17, 2021, includes email corres­pond­ence between the LAPD and Voyager Labs (Voyager) dated between Octo­ber 2018 and March 2021. The docu­ments reveal that the LAPD conduc­ted a four-month trial of the company’s Voyager­Ana­lyt­ics soft­ware between July and Novem­ber 2019. Voyager touts its products’ “unique collec­tion meth­ods [that] enable trace­less collec­tion from social media networks,” which Voyager claims allow users to recon­struct closed profiles and closed Face­book groups based on publicly avail­able inform­a­tion, as well as to uncover the strength and rela­tion­ship type of people’s connec­tions on social media. Voyager also claims its tools can identify people that are “most inves­ted in a given stance: emotion­ally, ideo­lo­gic­ally, and person­ally.” The LAPD was partic­u­larly inter­ested in the VoyagerGen­esis tool, which analyzes warrant returns for social media inform­a­tion within minutes. Voyager also promoted its Voyager­Check tool that auto­mat­ic­ally vets social media profiles based on a user’s list of prede­ter­mined ques­tions.

To demon­strate these capab­il­it­ies, Voyager sent the LAPD a case study from March 2020 titled “COVID-19 Outbreak: Invest­ig­at­ing a Threat Actor.” Using the Voyager­Ana­lyt­ics tool, the company analyzed the network of Bahgat Saber, a Muslim Broth­er­hood activ­ist from New York City, after he told his follow­ers to delib­er­ately infect members of the Egyp­tian consu­late with Covid-19. Voyager analyzed biograph­ical inform­a­tion for Saber and his nearly 4,000 follow­ers. Subsequently, Voyager analyzed Saber’s “indir­ect connec­tions” (friends of friends), tout­ing that it had found “affin­ity of at least some of Saber’s network for viol­ent, radical ideo­lo­gies.” Voyager also found that fifty-eight of Saber’s connec­tions indic­ated that they lived in New York City. Of those living in New York City, Voyager clas­si­fies two people as threats because they work in U.S. govern­ment agen­cies, are asso­ci­ated with Saber, and have connec­tions to “known extrem­ist accounts.” In short, the case study presents a roadmap for guilt by asso­ci­ation, clas­si­fy­ing people as threats based on an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence tool’s assess­ment of their direct and indir­ect connec­tions on social media.

Voyager also sent the LAPD an undated white paper describ­ing its capab­il­it­ies with refer­ence to the case of Adam Alsahli, who attacked the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in May 2020. Voyager claimed that its tool can auto­mat­ic­ally vet and clas­sify people by their risk of becom­ing Islamic funda­ment­al­ists. The results are color-coded (green, orange, and red) based on “arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence calib­ra­tions,” which Voyager describes as provid­ing insights in minutes without human involve­ment. For Alsahli, Voyager high­lights the fact that he posted “pictures with Islamic themes” that reflect “his pride in and iden­ti­fic­a­tion with his Arab herit­age” on Face­book and Instagram, and that AI analysis of these posts yiel­ded an “orange” indic­ator.

In some corres­pond­ence with Voyager, the LAPD sugges­ted that it did not want to use features that could be perceived as “active monit­or­ing” of social media. In one instance, an LAPD repres­ent­at­ive asked Voyager not to activ­ate a feature that would allow the LAPD to track changes in content and connec­tions on a social media profile because it was too close to “active monit­or­ing.” In another email, an LAPD repres­ent­at­ive expressed concerns about Voyager’s monit­or­ing capab­il­it­ies because of public outcry over law enforce­ment’s use of Geofee­dia.

The series also includes several pricing propos­als and price quotes that Voyager sent to the LAPD in 2019 and 2020. The LAPD and Voyager were discuss­ing final­iz­ing procure­ment, but the LAPD was unable to purchase Voyager­Ana­lyt­ics licenses in 2020; the reason given was projec­ted budget short­falls during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This series also includes email corres­pond­ence from the LAPD with EDGE NPD dated between Septem­ber 2020 and March 2021, which the Bren­nan Center released on Decem­ber 15, 2021. EDGE NPD is a European soft­ware devel­op­ment company that created ABTShield, a social media monit­or­ing tool that purportedly uncov­ers disin­form­a­tion campaigns. In its promo­tional mater­i­als for the LAPD, EDGE NPD pitched ABTShield as a tool to help the LAPD at a time when “[the depart­ment] is being targeted by organ­ized attacks of auto­mated bots and trolls (e.g., police brutal­ity misin­form­a­tion and ‘defund the police’ narrat­ives).” An LAPD repres­ent­at­ive put forward this narrat­ive as well, assert­ing in an email to Dobromir Ciaś, the CEO of EDGE NPD, that there were “state-backed media outlets sowing divi­sion between law enforce­ment and the communit­ies we protect.”

The LAPD conduc­ted a trial of ABTShield in Octo­ber and Novem­ber 2020. As part of its trial, the LAPD received daily updates contain­ing Twit­ter activ­ity related to topics of interest the Depart­ment selec­ted: domestic extrem­ism and white nation­al­ism, poten­tial danger, civil unrest, elec­tion secur­ity, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Amer­ican poli­cing. To search through Twit­ter, the LAPD and EDGE NPD compiled an extens­ive list of keywords, which included words and phrases related to Black Lives Matter protests, white suprem­acist and domestic terror groups, the 2020 elec­tion, and more. The Bren­nan Center received a list with keywords that the LAPD reques­ted, but EDGE NPD subsequently added addi­tional terms and the LAPD agreed to the addi­tions. Accord­ing to the LAPD, it did not receive the final list of keywords used by ABTShield from EDGE NPD.

Finally, the K-Series, released by the Bren­nan Center on Decem­ber 15, 2021, contained Excel files from the LAPD’s trial of ABTShield. On aver­age, ABTShield sent the LAPD approx­im­ately 70,000 tweets every day (almost 2 million tweets in total) in three differ­ent spread­sheets: tweets with Los Angeles-specific content, tweets from Los Angeles (iden­ti­fied through Twit­ter’s geoloca­tion tools), and English-language tweets. The spread­sheets include the content of the tweet, the origin­at­ing account, and how many people viewed the tweet (i.e., the tweet’s reach). Addi­tion­ally, ABTShield compiled over 1,400 tweets from social media handles that the LAPD reques­ted ABTShield track; ABTShield tagged these tweets almost entirely as related to Amer­ican poli­cing and civil unrest. The Bren­nan Center’s review of the spread­sheet indic­ates that the LAPD tracked at least three accounts — two anti-fascist groups and one account that provides updates on protests based on inform­a­tion obtained through police scan­ners and civil­ian reports.

The LAPD’s Writ­ten Responses

Addi­tion­ally, on April 28, 2021, the LAPD sent a letter to the Bren­nan Center accom­pa­ny­ing its supple­mental docu­ment produc­tion. In the letter, the LAPD repres­en­ted that it had not conduc­ted any audits regard­ing the Depart­ment’s use of social media monit­or­ing. The Depart­ment also stated that records reflect­ing warn­ings or discip­lin­ary action against LAPD employ­ees for their use of social media are “confid­en­tial and non-disclos­able,” and were there­fore not produced.

On June 25, 2021, the LAPD sent a letter respond­ing to the Bren­nan Center’s ques­tions about the produced docu­ments. The letter reveals that the LAPD obtained fund­ing through a UASI grant in 2021 to procure Media Sonar licenses; however, the LAPD stated that it is not using other products listed in the UASI grant applic­a­tion, such as Skopenow, Cobwebs, ABTShield, and Voyager­Ana­lyt­ics. The LAPD also repres­en­ted that while the Depart­ment will be using Media Sonar in FY 2021, it has not signed a contract with the company. Although the LAPD’s Septem­ber 2021 After-Action Report Imple­ment­a­tion Plan states that the LAPD is using Voyager, the LAPD’s coun­sel believed this refer­ence is an error.  

On July 13, 2021, the LAPD sent a letter respond­ing to the Bren­nan Center’s ques­tions about the produced docu­ments. The LAPD repres­en­ted that it does not track how many field inter­view (FI) cards officers complete, nor the number of unique indi­vidu­als about whom FI cards are completed.

On Decem­ber 8, 2021, the LAPD respon­ded to the Bren­nan Center’s ques­tions about the keyword list used by ABTShield for the LAPD’s pilot. Accord­ing to the LAPD, EDGE NPD did not provide a final version of the keyword list used in the trial to the Depart­ment.