It has emerged that a local government in Scotland has finalized plans to secretly spy on its citizens via the popular social media platform, Facebook.
According to local media reports, the East Lothian Council has given local government workers the power to create fake Facebook accounts, befriend citizens and spy on them for the prevention of disorder and perceived mischief. East Lothian is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland. The area is near the capital, Edinburgh.
The council made the disturbing revelation in a comprehensive document, titled Surveillance through Social Media Policy.
Here is how the covert spying activity is going to work: Firstly, some so-called investigating officers [spies] are permitted to use social media, especially Facebook, for surveillance purposes.
The officers will create a fake account on the social media platform. They will then send a friend request to suspected citizens. They are also permitted to enter into personal relationships with third party users, or be part of various groups on Facebook.
It was also revealed that in some circumstances, spying is also permitted through the officer’s private or departmental identity. This means the officers can spy on citizens overtly and covertly.
“To investigate a service user whose Facebook account is protected by privacy settings, the investigating officer will have to send the service user a friend request. If the officer frequently or regularly views/visits the same individual’s profile this must be considered as targeted. However if the service user posts publicly, they can have no expectation of privacy,” an excerpt of the controversial document said.
The document also added that the investigating officers will need to obtain official authorization from a higher authority before undertaking the covert befriending of people.
— East Lothian Council (@ELCouncil) April 26, 2016
breitbart.com reports that the East Lothian Council has issued a statement saying the investigating officers are limited to spying on local people for the prevention and detection of crime or disorder, and for public health and safety.
The council also revealed that it has a very high threshold for using the powers of spying, and that it had received overwhelming support across the political divide.
However, public backlash over the new policy forced the council to state that it would aim to balance the size and scope of the operation against the gravity and extent of the perceived mischief.
But this will not stop the public’s outrage against the policy. Many people have voiced their displeasure.
Jason Rose, who stood for the Green Party in the East Lothian constituency in the 2015 elections, is among those who object to the policy. He described the policy as absurd, adding that the councilors who voted to approve it have lost their focus.
The Metro News quoted him as saying: “I cannot believe our councilors have agreed this policy. It speaks volumes that a council which is so poor at communicating with the public and does not make its meetings available to view online, agrees a covert surveillance policy in such a secretive way”.
According to privacy activists, most Scottish councils have policies for surveillance through social media already in place, and it is being used to monitor people in these areas of the country.
In February this year, Scottish police arrested a 41-year-old man under the Communications Act after receiving a report of a supposedly “offensive” comment made on Facebook regarding Syrian migrants arriving on the Isle of Bute.
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