A number of North Wales-based county councils have been accused of using fake Facebook accounts to gain information from the social media accounts of people they are investigating.
Both Denbighshire and Gwynedd councils have been using pseudonym accounts in order to gain intelligence on people that could be used as part of an investigation they are carrying out. Furthermore, officials from Conwy have also said that it allows its officers to carry out investigations into social media accounts, but they do so under their own accounts.
The news may come as a surprise to many, with one civil liberties group, Big Brother Watch, voicing its dismay at these actions, calling this practice “shocking”.
These councils have all stated that this method was only used in cases where investigations were probing into potential illegal activity and remain adamant that they are following the law while carrying out these actions.
Big Brother Watch has highlighted that much of the information shared by people on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram contains personal information that is only intended to be shared with their friends and family.
A spokesperson on behalf of the group has argued that conducting investigations into these social media accounts while pretending to be someone else is an intrusion of personal space. Furthermore, it has slammed the idea that these councils are training their staff to conduct such covert practices.
The group has said that treating social media sites as an intelligence database, especially when the user may have switched their settings to private, is “shameful” and interferes with the right to a private life.
In recent years, privacy has become a subject that is commonly talked about, and not always in a positive light, with many data breaches occurring as a result of cyberattacks and computer misuse. Facebook itself came under massive scrutiny earlier this year in the form of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and earlier in the summer the GDPR came into effect, exercising the right to be forgotten.
A representative of Gwynedd Council has said that it has a responsibility for enforcing a variety of legislation and a duty to investigated alleged breaches of the law. The spokesperson added that the council uses appropriate methods available to them to establish whether there is sufficient evidence of noncompliance, and assesses whether there it is in the best interest to take enforcement action, which will depend on the nature of the allegation.