“We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files …”
— Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, from the song “Mrs. Robinson”
That slightly paranoid line from the classic 1967 movie “The Graduate” is likely on the lips of Los Angeles residents this week after a report by the Brennan Center for Justice detailed how the Los Angeles Police Department has been directing its officers to take down social media information for every civilian they interview in the field.
That’s right — every citizen. For the past six years.
Officers were directed to use field interview cards to add social media and email account information, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts — and even Social Security numbers — in a memo detailing the policy change in 2015, according to the Brennan Center report.
The New York Daily News said the nonprofit’s analysis has “raised the alarm about the practice’s potential for unjustified mass surveillance of civilians and the potential violation of civil liberties.”
“There are real dangers about police having all of this social media identifying information at their fingertips,” Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a deputy director at the Brennan Center, told The Guardian, which first broke the story.
Indeed it does. The LAPD field interview policy is a jumbo fishing expedition and it’s based on the premise that civilians interviewed often feel slightly coerced into cooperating with police officers — and cough up their personal information when they are under no legal obligation to do so.
That’s a vast overreach for the LAPD. We have no problem with police searching for social media links when they are conducting criminal investigations, that’s done routinely. But building a database of the accounts of uncharged or innocent civilians in case it comes in handy down the road is just plain wrong.
If we go down this road that’s only a half step from being pulled over for a traffic violation and having the officer ask for your driver’s license — oh, and a throat swab just to check your DNA and keep it on file.
According to a Los Angeles Times report, more than half of the civilians stopped by LAPD metro officers and documented in the field interview cards were not arrested or cited.
The only bright spot in this saga is that the Brennan Center reviewed the practices of 40 other police agencies in the U.S. and didn’t find any other departments that required social media collection on interview cards.
The Guardian reported the LAPD is “updating” its field interview card policy, but did not provide details.