Currently, Facebook is demanding for the Los Angeles Police Department to stop utilizing Instagram in order to conduct surveillance on the social media platform’s users. According to Facebook, the use of fake names and profiles is against guidelines, and they’ve addressed a letter to LAPD’s chief dictating the necessitated changes. Presently, it’s unknown what the response will be and what leverage Facebook has to uphold its demands.

 

According to BBC and The Guardian, the police department has been working with a tech firm in order to analyze user data and solve crimes, as well as find potential future offenders. Additionally, the LAPD has instructional documents using “Facebook as an explicit example in advising officers to set up fake social media accounts, but documents also indicate that LAPD policies simply allow officers to create fake accounts for ‘online investigative activity’” wrote Facebook’s vice president and deputy general counsel for civil rights Roy Austin in [the] letter outlining Facebook’s policies, addressed to LAPD chief Michel Moore. Although, LAPD does have policies that outline restrictions on other social media practices. Regardless, others are citing evidence that the use of these sorts of software appear to be inherently racist and against the protection of particular activist groups. 

 

The New York Post and the NYU Law School Institute describe these sorts of practices as potentially unconstitutional, with the institute claiming that LAPD may be infringing on “First Amendment protected activities.”

 

The main tech firm being discussed appears to be Voyager Labs, according to New York’s Brennan Center of Justice. The center shows that, since 2019, Voyager has been using social media surveillance software to collect and analyze data from social media to help solve crimes. Apparently, this includes looking at friends’ accounts, discerning user beliefs, and finding out potential motives. However, it’s not clear if the LAPD used Voyager’s fake profile features when they were working together.

 

According to Daily Mail, Voyager’s software has been used in the surveillance of more than 500 social media accounts and gone through thousands of user messages. And the scraping service has the ability to let officers use accounts that have already connected with active users that are active targets. This appears to include social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, as well as Telegram. Apparently, these connections with active targets allow the software to work better because “engaged in their hearts” social media users have their ideologies more easily discerned. Some would liken these features to “active monitoring,” just online where users may expect a certain level of privacy. 

 

Despite the fact that Facebook claims to have intended Instagram to be safe and self-policing, others are not so sure about it’s apparent double standards in gauging what fake accounts deserve to be taken down. Robert Potter, an Australian security expert specialising in lawful surveillance, thinks false profiles can be justified in circumstances where people are seeking to protect their privacy online, or for users in countries where the internet is censored heavily. Additionally, Potter’s statement expresses surprise at the strong stance against LAPD when stances have been significantly weaker against political ads, scams, and negative effects on users.

 

This is not the first time Facebook has requested a Police Department to stop using its platform for surveillance, as the company reached out with a similar request in Memphis, Tennessee. But this doesn’t mean that LAPD is without fault, as it has also been criticized for asking officers to remove criminals’ and witness’ social media handles. Apparently, this has been in practice since 2015.

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Neama Rahmani is the President and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.

Neama graduated from UCLA at the age of 19 and Harvard Law School at the age of 22, making him one of the youngest graduates in the 200-year history of the…

Neama Rahmani is the President and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.

Neama graduated from UCLA at the age of 19 and Harvard Law School at the age of 22, making him one of the youngest graduates in the 200-year history of the law school. Upon graduation, Neama was hired by O’Melveny & Myers, the largest law firm in Los Angeles, where he represented companies such as Disney, Marriott, and the Roman Catholic Church.

But Neama wanted to help ordinary people, not corporations, so he joined the United States Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted drug and human trafficking cases along the United States-Mexico border. While working as a federal prosecutor, Neama captured and successfully prosecuted a fugitive murderer and drug kingpin who had terrorized Southern California and was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” Neama was then appointed to be the Director of Enforcement of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, an independent watchdog that oversees and investigates the elected officials and highest level employees of the City of Los Angeles, including the Mayor and City Council. He held that position until becoming a trial lawyer for the people.

Neama has extensive trial experience. He has led teams of more than 170 attorneys in litigation against the largest companies in the world. Neama has successfully tried dozens of cases to verdict as lead trial counsel, and has argued before both state and federal appeals courts. Over the course of his career, Neama has handled thousands of cases as attorney of record and has helped his clients obtain more than $1 billion in settlements and judgments.