Social media surveillance plans have been unveiled by a Kent local authority.
Dover District Council’s (DDC) Conservative administration has proposed to use platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, as an “essential investigatory tool” for gathering evidence of potential crimes.
Six managers and officers from the council’s environmental crime department will be tasked to deliver the work. They normally deal with fly-tipping, littering and graffiti offences.
Dover council’s seven-person cabinet will be asked to approve the creation of a social media investigations policy next week.
A Dover council report published to the panel yesterday said: “Social media can be a very useful tool when investigating alleged offences with a view to bringing a prosecution in the courts or taking other action.
“The use of evidence gathering from various forms of social media can go some way to proving or disproving various information including a statement made by a defendant, or an allegation made by a complainant.”
Cllr Kevin Mills (Lab), the opposition leader at Dover council, said officials must be “highly trained” to ensure they do not overstep their legal duties.
Legally, UK Government law allows surveillance of social media for “providing safeguards” against criminal offences.
This can be used as a defence when a claim is made for “the right to respect for privacy” under Article 8 of the European Conventions on Human Rights.
In Dover, the council aims to provide “greater clarity” for social media probes completed by officers.
Without the policy, the administration fears that employees will incorrectly carry out this type of work. That could lead to the authority facing large fines, data protection law breaches or undermine criminal prosecutions.
Social media accounts of defendants would be accessed on council-owned “devices” and logs maintained to explain the need to use them.
It has been recommended that any evidence is captured by officers through screenshots of photos or text on the social media site.
Some concerns have been raised about the council seeking to use covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) – which will enable the investigating officer to build a personal relationship with a person to secretly obtain information.
Cllr Mills said: “Criminals need to be dealt with and no-one will argue with that but CHIS seems to take it to another level.”
Dover council’s cabinet member for planning, Cllr Nicholas Kenton (Con), has been contacted for a response ahead of next Monday’s virtual meeting..
— to www.kentonline.co.uk