At least 26 Dutch municipalities say they are using fake accounts to follow citizens on social media. Municipalities use accounts, for example, to join private Facebook groups. Using fake accounts in this way might be illegal.
According to A. Questionnaire and research From the NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the University of Groningen, 11 municipalities say they use fake accounts “sometimes”, one municipality says they use them “often,” and a second says they use them “always” and 13 municipalities say they use them. 67 municipalities say they never use fake accounts. The questionnaire was filled out by 156 Dutch municipalities; Fewer than half of the 352 municipalities are in the Netherlands.
Municipalities use fake accounts to identify citizen behavior, beyond what current monitoring tools allow. This relates to searching, for example, for disturbances of public order, in order to be able to investigate or predict demonstrations or riots, for example. With fake accounts, they can manually search, for example, in private Facebook groups, in order to find out more about people’s behavior.
According to the investigation, the use of fake accounts in this way may be illegal. In the survey, which covered the complete monitoring of social media by municipalities, a quarter of respondents said that the legal framework for monitoring is unclear. And the fifth indicates that this framework is clear. Meanwhile, 46 percent said they did not comply with the law and 4 percent said they did not. The rest of the respondents say they are neutral on these two questions.
Bart Casters, professor Law and Data Science At Leiden University, He says to De Volkskrant Municipalities are prohibited from using fake accounts to track citizens. This work will be “under cover”. For example, the police should be allowed to do this, provided they obtain permission from a judge first. The Dutch Association of Municipalities has not yet wanted to respond objectively to the newspaper.
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