LOS ANGELES — The ACLU of Southern California today sent a letter to the City of Pasadena and the Pasadena Police Department urging the police department not to use aggregated social media data collected on Pasadena residents and end its contract with Spokeo, Inc., a social media monitoring company.
The City of Pasadena contracts for Spokeo's monitoring platform, Spokeo For Law Enforcement, a massive, unregulated database of public records and social media postings available to the Pasadena PD. Spokeo's history of maintaining inaccurate records within its databases makes reliance on that data by the Pasadena PD particularly dangerous and ripe for abuse.
"The law doesn't allow the police to keep files on all Pasadena residents' Facebook posts, tweets, Instagram postings, real estate records, and voter registration information, and police shouldn't access the same kind of comprehensive and sensitive information through a private company," said ACLU SoCal Staff Attorney Mohammad Tajsar. "The city's use of Spokeo for Law Enforcement raises serious risks of privacy and civil rights violations by the Pasadena Police Department, especially for the city's over-policed communities of color."
ACLU SoCal's letter lists a number of concerns about Spokeo's service, including that:
- The use of Spokeo's service may violate the California Constitution's right to privacy by aggregating broad swaths of information for law enforcement use that individuals did not expect would be accessed by the police.
- Spokeo's history of storing inaccurate information and refusal to guarantee the veracity of its records creates a serious risk of danger and abuse if relied upon by the City of Pasadena.
- Spokeo appears to perform some form of data analysis on the vast troves of records it keeps, a process which is secret and not subject to public scrutiny.
- The city has not offered the public strong reasons for why Spokeo's service would benefit the police department and public safety, or balanced those reasons against the serious privacy concerns.
- The city does not appear to have any strong policies and procedures governing the use of Spokeo, which raises the risk of abuse by the police department.
- ACLU SoCal's letter also requests the city to produce all documents concerning its relationship with Spokeo in order to provide the public with critical information into the technology's capabilities and the scope of its use by the city.
Spokeo, Inc., a Pasadena-based technology company, operates a self-described online "people search engine," which allows users to search for data on individuals scraped from publicly available sources, including social networks, phone books, and real-estate and business websites. Spokeo markets its "people search engine" to employers, realtors, debt collectors, non-profits, and individuals as a way of performing background checks, looking up personal details about others, monitoring updates about the lives of individuals, and unmasking anonymous communications.
This press release is available online at: https://www.aclusocal.org/en/press-releases/aclu-demands-pasadena-stop-mining-its-residents-social-media