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Facebook 'fair game' in benefits cheats battle

The Local/cg · 20 Jun 2011, 15:31

Published: 20 Jun 2011 15:31 GMT+02:00

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The ruling from the social committee at the National Board of Health and Welfare's (Socialstyrelsen) council for ethical issues, means that civil servants tasked with reviewing applicants' suitability to receive benefits are free to compare claims made on application forms to how individuals present themselves online.

"Social services must adapt to the growing number of people using Facebook and similar social media sites to communicate," wrote the committee in its report.

The health board's ethical committee looked into the issue after a dilemma arose during a social work student's internship.

The student was surprised to learn that benefits administrators were inspecting their clients' profiles on Facebook and on their blogs, and alerted the ethics committee to the controversial practice.

The information found online was used to verify if the clients had been honest about whether or not they were single, for example, and whether they truly were entitled to benefits they had applied to receive.

In the wake of the committee's ruling, information from Facebook and other sources can now be used during the processing of benefits claims.

"Social services may use any information available to them in their handling of a case. The location of the information is irrelevant," the council ruled.

The social committee emphasised, however, the need for critical scrutiny of the relevance and source of the information, and furthermore pointed out that information should not be gathered behind the applicants' back.

"Information from Facebook must - just as any other gathered information - be relevant to the case. It must be assessed and all sources examined," the committee wrote.

Following the ruling, legal experts have expressed concerns regarding the ethical and practical aspects of the decision.

Story continues below…

"Information on Facebook can be distorted, or another person could be responsible for what's written," Cecilia Magnusson Sjöberg, professor of law and informatics at Stockholm University, told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

"So it's not entirely uncomplicated to use it."

The Local/cg (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

17:47 June 20, 2011 by eton75
Bloody police state is this Sweden !
20:48 June 20, 2011 by zeero
Come on, with a simple sense you can block any unwonted visitors on you FB or any other social accounts... and the SE police is doing that long time ago...
20:57 June 20, 2011 by Prat
This is probably good. Let liars sink themselves.

For many years the Swedish wife of my friend was too ill to work, and collected benefits, but she could sing & dance and seemingly do everything.

She always had a jolly good time.
21:55 June 20, 2011 by Javlaengelsman
@prat It's not as simple as that. So what if she could sing & dance & seemingly do everything. She could have Bipolar depression for example, a very serious life threatening condition. Again the dark art of pr at work with media in partnership stokes up a feelings of mean envy to distract the bovine massen from the fact that we now live in a world of negative liberty, a world without meaning... Hitler used the Jews as scapegoats... The neoliberals use the poor and the sick...
00:13 June 21, 2011 by Puffin
hmmmm - note to self

Don't accept försäkringskassan as a friend on FB ;-)
00:59 June 21, 2011 by William Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha
Are we talking about publicly accessable FB accounts or are they using government jiggery-pokery to look at private ones?
05:24 June 21, 2011 by Playmaker
look it 2011 we have to keep up with the times. if you say you are single but are a liar then you get what is coming to you. lie to your govt. for free money you dont deserve then you get whats coming to you. pretty simple dont lie to steal from the citizens of sweden
11:33 June 21, 2011 by johnny1939
Best not to be on FB at all. I was for a while until someone got into my profile and added something that I did not like that really scared me and I left. So it is not safe at all. I think that many people tell FB a lot of stuff to sound more interesting and that might not be true and then it can come back and hurt them.
14:38 June 21, 2011 by DavidtheNorseman
@ William S-C-G

The social services have probably simply signed on as one of those third party groups who legally collect every bit of your info if you play Farmville or Poker.....LOL

We live in such totally transparent glass houses unless we go totally off the grid. There is a need for new legal structures to compartmentalize public/private lives though, methinks....an Online Magna Carta?
19:07 June 21, 2011 by mkvgtired
@William Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha,

FB will not share your info. Click on the "Privacy" link at the bottom of the page. Even advertisers do not get your info, they select their target market and FB matches their ads to FB users. I would have to assume that the Swedish government would just be using public profiles for people that have never made their profiles private.
23:26 June 21, 2011 by Da Goat
I refuse to do FB but I would like someone to do the test

set your privacy on MAX then lie to either FB or försäkringskassan and when things get hairy you can sue FB for leaking/lost of trust, then you don't need to work at all!
11:56 June 22, 2011 by johnny1939
@Da Goat I like it, I like it and FB got plenty of money too
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