Council creates bizarre policy allowing officials to make fake Facebook profiles and befriend ‘targets’

Jason Hadden

East Lothian Council has granted officials the power to create fake Facebook profiles in order to befriend “targets” in a new policy, the Edinburgh Evening News reports.

However, the council said it would never actually use the fake profiles – it simply thought it was bound to provide the measure under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000.

The nine-page report on “social media policy” states: “In some circumstances, it may be necessary for East Lothian Council employees, in the course of their duties, to access social media websites either by creating covert identities or through the officer’s private or departmental identity.”

Lawyers have warned that councils could use the powers to spy on their own employees as well as vulnerable families.

Jason Hadden MBE, a barrister, questioned whether the policy was compatible with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“I can understand why individuals might become nervous about how these powers might be used,” he said.

The policy also states that investigators can enter into a “personal relationship” with users.

council spokeswoman said, however, that staff would not actually create fake profiles or spy on people.

She said: “The legislation was originally created for police and counter-terrorism but also applies to local authorities.

“Therefore, although East Lothian Council has never used covert identities for social media as part as an investigation, and is highly unlikely to do so, a policy must be put in place to include all eventualities even if they are not used.”

She added: “Creating false identities would undergo even more rigorous testing and will not ever be used by East Lothian Council – it is a provision aimed at the police.

“As it is part of the law, however, it had to be included in the policy.”