Here are some points which need to be considered in the new Covert Human Intelligence Source Code of Practice:
This is 2014 and somehow, yet again, there is no specific mention of *online* CHIS activities in the Code of Practice - this is inexcusable
Online "Legend" building and maintenance
It may be necessary and proportionate for a CHIS or a Relevant Source to create fake online internet service accounts e.g. Google Gmail, Microsoft Live ID, Twitter, Facebook, blog registrations, online discussion forum registrations etc.
A Relevant Source is essentially an undercover police officer etc. holding a public office, rather than acriminal or other informant, defined in The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Covert Human Intelligence Sources: Relevant Sources) Order 2013
These may be used to help establish a "Legend" (does nobody else find the use of this Soviet era KGB espionage slang by the Home Office questionable ?)
N.B. by doing so, the CHIS or Relevant Source will almost certainly be breaking the legal Terms and Conditions of the online service.
Since newly created social media accounts which participate in discussions or which try to "follow" or "friend" other users, are less trustworthy and more suspicious, a convincing online persona requires a searchable history of online activity for it to be
Therefore any such "Legend" building (which may not yet have been allocated to a particular Relevant Source or investigation or operation) could take years and must also be reviewed by a senior responsible officer and the Surveillance Commissioners, with the same audit trails and regularity as other Relevant Sources i.e. regular review at least annually.
Automated social media software
There are plenty of companies willing to sell or create social media software tools and services for "marketing" or for "social media intelligence", the use of which can help in the creation of believable online "Legends", or allow the gathering of online social media details about an individual or group.
Any use of such tools or services must also be clearly authorised and audited as per Relevant Sources.
online CHIS risk of Disruption , Agents Provocateurs & Entrapment
One particular danger is the temptation for a CHIS or Relevant Source to use automated scripts or software to easily create and try to maintain multiple fake online personalities, often with limited artificial intelligence to send and reply to messages, so as to to create "buzz" or "chatter" online about a particular topic or issue.
They are also used to try to to manipulate (up or down) the ranking of certain keywords in web search engine queries.
These are abused by unethical businesses and by criminals to, for example, manipulate the price (up or down) of stocks and shares ("pump and dump" or "boilerhouse" operators) or to try to hide unfavourable or embarrassing press articles or social media commentary (no matter how truthful) from most naive web search engine users, who rarely progress beyond the first page or two of results.
Such software can also be used to "swarm" or "spam" political discussion forums, pushing a particular viewpoint and stifling free debate through "trolling" and "sock puppetry".
Therefore any use of such software must also be carefully authorised like a Relevant Source and audited by the Surveillance Commissioners. There also needs to be a clear Financial audit trail, as there is could be a substantial cost to the public purse.
Any use of such software for the dubious purpose of "disruption" of criminal or terrorist enterprises is also fraught with danger that it will be used to disrupt and cause collateral damage to innocent people e.g. those involved in political or social campaigns, peaceful demonstrations etc.
Although popular in the USA and with repressive dictatorships, such techniques risk creating online Agent Provocateurs and Entrapment, which should be a legal anathema in the UK.
N.B. even a "justifiable" use of such software or techniques will inevitably cause reputational damage to the trustworthiness of the law enforcement agency which uses them, when, not if, this becomes public.
This new CHIS Code of Practice must clearly forbid any use of Agents Provocateurs or Entrapment, whether online or in person.