If you get a friend request from someone wearing a police uniform, do not assume it is a fancy dress costume. A recent report shows that the Los Angeles police department is taking a deep interest in people’s social media. It is likely that other forces also do.
The Brennan Center for Justice report found evidence that the police force instructed its officers to collect the social media details of anyone they stop and question. The field interview cards the LAPD uses to record such events have a place to put your address and phone number and a box to add your social media account details. You do not have to oblige by giving them your information, but it is easy to feel pressured or think you must if you are not up to date on your legal rights.
The report also found the LAPD allows officers to create false social media personas when investigating crimes. By interacting with you virtually, they can find out even more about you.
The police can use social media to help solve crimes, yet they can also make assumptions that lead to the wrong conclusions. If one of your Facebook friends is a suspect in a crime, or if you checked into a place close to when a crime happened, the police may assume you were involved and arrest you — or press you for information.
If the police charge you with a crime, you need to discover what information they used to reach that conclusion. While the rules around police use of social media are unclear, everyone has rights. If the police breach your rights, you can ask a court to disregard any evidence they acquired illegally.