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Los Angeles Police May Be Collecting Social Media Data of Persons They are Stopping

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Can police officers ask you for your social media account information?

The LAPD also seeks technology from Media Sonar, a company which also tracks social media for police. In the 2021 budget, the LAPD allotted $73,000 to purchase Media Sonar software to help the department monitor social media hashtags. The LAPD has also requested federal funding for such technology to combat terrorism. Internal documents indicate that the LAPD has been focused on monitoring social media hashtags related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

LAPD Officers with Riot Shields

Is It Legal for Police Officers to Ask For Social Media Information?

Police officers are limited by both the federal and state constitution about the information they can involuntarily collect. While police can always obtain information voluntarily, unconsented access to information or evidence requires a search warrant. The 4th Amendment protects Americans from unwarranted searches and seizures. California in particular confers a strong right to privacy to its residents such that a reasonable objective expectation of privacy could confer a right to privacy.

Social security numbers would certainty not be accessible to police unless someone voluntarily provided their number or if a judge signed a search warrant for such information. Social security numbers are typically redacted when documents are produced during lawsuits and most people would consider their social security numbers confidential. The police should seek a court order prior to accessing someone’s social security number.

Social media information is a little trickery. A lot of social media information is available to the public and arguably such information would not be considered private. However, other social media accounts may be more private – Facebook for example allows users to set their pages to friends and family only. It would be up to a judge to determine which information was private and which information was public.

Moreover, social media is often connected. Access to one person’s social media information may lead to access to the social media information of others. People who are stopped by the police can only give access to their own social media information to the police. They cannot consent to giving up social media information regarding third-parties. A police request for social media accounts that leads to access to third-party information would likely be unconstitutional.

What If the Police Obtain Evidence Through Illegally Obtained Social Media Information?

If the LAPD, or other police departments, obtain evidence illegally, that evidence can be deemed inadmissible at trial. That means that the ill-gotten evidence will be kept away from the jury. If that evidence was critical for the prosecution’s case, then the defense will likely win as it is the prosecutor’s burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Should I Get an Attorney If I am Charged with a Crime?

Criminal charges are life changing especially if the police or prosecutors are abusing their power. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help protect your rights and represent your interests. An attorney can guide you through the complex trial process and ensure your rights are protected.


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