Rother council looks at new guidance for surveillance through social media

New guidance has been issued to councils on social media surveilliance
New guidance has been issued to councils on social media surveilliance

Rother District Council is looking at how it uses social media in enforcement investigations following new national guidance, councillors have heard.

On Monday (April 15), members of the licensing and general purposes committee considered an annual report on the council’s use of its covert surveillance powers.

While committee members heard no covert surveillance had been carried out by the council since 2015, officers drew attention to new national guidance around the use of social media sites such as Facebook from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO).

Andrew Eaton, a lawyer with Rother and Wealden District Council’s shared legal service, said: “The commissioner is very keen to look at local authorities’ activity in regards to social media.

“Historically – as long as you weren’t going behind public pages – looking at Facebook for the purposes of benefit fraud or environmental crime was always considered to be overt [surveillance].

“But the landscape is changing in that regard. At the back end of last year, new codes of practice were introduced in relation to scrutiny on social media.”

Mr Eaton said the guidance from IPCO was that local authorities should be recording its information gathering from public parts of social media sites.

He said this would not prevent councils from using information from social media sites as part of an investigation, but the gathering of the information would need to be better recorded.

Mr Eaton also stressed that the council is not allowed – and has never been allowed – to set up accounts to gather information from private elements of social media sites without authorisation.

The council is currently looking at rolling out new training for its staff as a response to this guidance, Mr Eaton said.