14. Use of social media in gathering evidence
As explained in this policy, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 regulates the use of covert surveillance activities by Local Authorities. Special authorisation arrangements need to be put in place whenever the Council considers commencing a covert surveillance or obtaining information by the use of informants or officers acting in an undercover capacity.
This also includes the use of social media sites for gathering evidence to assist in enforcement activities, as set out below:
- officers must not create a false identity in order to ‘befriend’ individuals on social networks without authorisation under RIPA.
- officers viewing an individual’s public profile on a social network should do so only to the minimum degree necessary and proportionate in order to obtain evidence to support or refute their investigation
- repeated viewing of open profiles on social networks to gather evidence or to monitor an individual’s status, must only take place once RIPA authorisation has been granted and approved by a Magistrate
- officers should be aware that it may not be possible to verify the accuracy of information on social networks and, if such information is to be used as evidence, take reasonable steps to ensure its validity.