MACEDONIAN POLICE ON FACEBOOK
“The MOI has added you as a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know the MOI in order for you to be friends.” Macedonian journalists now routinely receive such friend requests on the social networking website “Facebook”.
The Ministry of the Interior, MOI, opened its own Facebook profile two weeks ago in order to promote informal communication with citizens. Ministry officials have denied that the object is to abuse personal data which becomes available when an individual elects to become a friend on Facebook, local media report.
The MOI initiative does not constitute a violation of the Law on personal data protection according to the Directorate for Personal Data Protection.
The MOI insists that this is an informal profile which is not intended to monitor the activities of, for example, journalists.
Some journalists are not so sure.
“I can accept a friend request from a person who has a name and surname, but this is not the case when the friend request is coming from the Ministry of the Interior as an institution. My data and activities are visible to all of my friends, this is not secret, but still, this information belongs only to me. How could I be sure that an institution would not abuse this data?” one journalist who has declined an MOI friend request told Utrinski vesnik daily.
However, the MOI argues that it simply wants to promote informal communication, and the Facebook profile is only used as an additional form of contact between police and citizens.
“If anyone believes that the data could be abused, he can simply ignore the friend request,” said MOI Deputy Minister for Public Relations Ivo Kotevski “This is an informal activity, and we do not intend to monitor people’s activities online”
The MOI’s Facebook profile, which has now been active for several weeks, already has more than 300 friends, most of whom are journalists working on issues related to the police.
The profile is public and open to everybody, so anyone can post, whether he or she is a “friend” of the MOI or not. The page features photographs, for example, that are not available on the Ministry’s official website (www.mvr.gov.mk).
This is because the website is official but the Facebook profile is informal, an MOI official said. “People respond much better to informal methods of communication.”
After reviewing the MOI’s Facebook profile, representatives of the Directorate for Personal Data Protection said there is no violation of personal data.
“It is not legally determined whether state institutions can use these portals as their own PR. Citizens decide independently whether they should accept online friendship with the MOI or not,” a statement from the Directorate said. “Before clicking and accepting, people should be aware that the MOI will have access to their data, posts, blogs, their friend lists and all their other activities on Facebook. This is a method which the MOI chose to communicate with the public and we cannot control this.”
The Directorate advises users always to check their profiles’ privacy settings, and make their activities visible only to a select group of people.