Big Brother: Dutch municipalities secretly watch citizens through social media

Last month Dutch Facebook users found out that their personal details had been leaked, now there is more bad news. It turns out Dutch municipalities have been monitoring citizens on a large scale via social media. They do this by illegally using fake accounts.

This is according to research carried out by the NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and the University of Groningen. It revealed that nearly one in six municipalities use fake social media accounts to monitor citizens in the Netherlands.

Municipalities created fake accounts on social media to enter Facebook groups under false names. This was often to gain insight on possible demonstrations and protests. Officials also used these fake accounts to monitor earnings on Marktplaats, to try and identify social assistance fraud, as well as looking at the flight stories of asylum seekers.

This is a method that is only lawful for the police or secret services to use, according to de Volkskrant.

Lack of clarity on the law

According to the investigation, many municipality officials were unaware that their actions were against the law. More than half of the 156 Dutch municipalities interviewed didn’t know which privacy laws applied to them.

Simply forbidden

As you might expect, this is a severe infringement on the right to privacy. This is confirmed by Professor of Law and Data Science at Leiden University, Bart Custers. He told de Volkskrant that “it is simply forbidden. Municipalities are not allowed to play detective for the police or intelligence service.”

READ MORE | Zwarte Piet pages removed from Facebook

The Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) has responded to de Volkskrant saying that it doesn’t yet have a clear picture of online monitoring. It did confirm that it is currently working on an inventory of all cases, but a spokesperson for the association didn’t want to comment further on the issue, according to the NOS.

How do you feel about these fake accounts? Let us know in the comments!

Feature Image: Glenn Carstens/Unsplash 

Chloe Lovatt 🇬🇧
A British native, Chloe has a love for other languages and cultures, having lived in Spain before moving to the Netherlands. She is keen to explore the Dutch landscape, cultural spots and — the most important — food! After being here for a few months she already has developed a mild addiction to kibbeling.


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