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LAPD Worked with Foreign Firm to Track Tweets About ‘Defund the Police’ and BLM During 2020 Protests; It’s Unclear How Data Was Used

The Los Angeles Police Department worked with a Polish “strategic communications” firm last year to track tweets related to Black Lives Matter and “defund the police,” according to documents obtained via a public records request by The Brennan Center.

The LAPD conducted a month-long trial of social media monitoring with Edge NPD, a company based in Warsaw, Poland.

LAPD Chief of Police Michel Moore speaks with protesters in the Fairfax District on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. Protests erupted across the country, with people outraged over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The fall 2020 trial period included tracking 200 keywords and resulted in the collection of millions of tweets, including thousands related to Black Lives Matter and the movement to defund the police.

Edge NPD previously had no experience working with law enforcement.

The company’s CEO, Dobromir Cias, told The Guardian the LAPD wanted to respond to “negative narratives” during the height of nation’s reckoning with racism and police violence, while flagging potential threats.

The trial was offered to the LAPD at no charge and was supposed to serve as a “demonstration” of the monitoring technology, but was not intended to monitor specific Black Lives Matter activists, Cias said.

A Twitter spokesperson told The Guardian in a statement the platform prohibits surveillance of activist organizations.

“Twitter prohibits the use of our developer services for surveillance purposes. Period. We proactively enforce our policies to ensure customers are in compliance and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said.

The company said it suspended Edge NPD’s developer account for violating the policies.

During the 40-day trial in October and November of 2020, the LAPD sought to collect social media data related to six topics, including “civil unrest,” “American policing,” “domestic extremism and white nationalism,” “election security,” “potential danger” and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Keywords the LAPD and Edge NPD discussed tracking during the trial included “abolish the police,” “nojusticenopeace,” “police budget,” and “police killing.”

Cias suggested “BLM” and “defund the police” be added to the list. An LAPD official agreed “BLM” would be good to add to the list, but noted that many people use the phrase to discuss legitimate rights.

Cias also said he would personally send tweets to the LAPD that “looked kind of dangerous,” during the trial, but added that he didn’t verify the legitimacy of the information in the tweets he passed along.

“When you’re passing this information, you don’t really know how serious it is. I think it’s up to law enforcement to really verify if it’s true,” Cias told The Guardian. “We don’t do fact checking.”

About 270,000 of the 2 million tweets collected during the trial were related to “American Policing,” according to the Brennan Center.

Flagged tweets included those that highlighted racism in American or called on LAPD chief Michael Moore to resign.

The LAPD did not establish a long-term contract with Edge NPD after the trial, although the company proposed a $150,000 agreement. However, the LAPD has looked into similar monitoring services offered by at least 10 other companies.

It’s not clear what the police department did with the collected data.

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