“Job centre employees are under no circumstances allowed to log into social networks or even under false pretences become online friends with people in order to gain access to their data,” German Federal Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar told Bild tabloid on Friday.
Using social networks to spy on unemployed people on benefits is firmly against the law, emphasised Schaar, after it emerged that several job centres had asked him about the legality of looking at their clients' Facebook pages.
Facebook and other internet research tools could only allowed “in absolutely exceptional cases,” said Schaar – for example if a job centre had a concrete suspicion of foul play based on other evidence not gained online.
Even plugging the name of someone receiving unemployment benefits into a Google search is illegal under German law, said Schaar, adding that authorities must first try to get the information directly from the person themselves.
Only if someone suspected of foul play is uncooperative and refuses to give out relevant data can job centres resort to using the internet.
“In every case the affected person must be informed that their data is being collected,” said Schaar.
“Anyone suspecting the misuse of their data in social networks can always contact me,” he added.