The stories about the Department of Social Protection’s use of Facebook to detect fraud raised more questions than they answered. So, I requested details from the Department of its use of social networking.
Here’s the relevant part of the response:
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, are not a systematic part of the Department’s on-going targeted fraud and error control activities.
Circumstances, however, may give rise to a member of staff examining publicly available information on the internet, for example following receipt of a report from a member of the public making reference to relevant information on social networking sites.
Information from such sources is not used as evidence to terminate a claim in payment but may result in a review of entitlement by the Department.
On a point of information, at the end of August 2010 (latest figures available)
- over 7,200 anonymous reports were made to the Department’s Central Control Division. (Reports are also made directly to scheme areas and public offices which are not included in that figure).
- 500,000 reviews approx. were completed by the Department. Investigations which refer to social networking sites would be negligible in an overall context.
As only information which is publicly available on social networking sites is accessed in such investigations, the cooperation of the operators of such sites is not needed. The Department has not accessed, or sought to access, information on social networking sites which is not available to the public at large.
The above doesn’t necessarily get the Department around the requirements of the Data Protection Acts and it is not clear what the Department does with data submitted to it by members of the public which is not publicly available online.