Police officers and others public authorities who use false identities to disguise their online presence when they use social media to investigate a suspect’s personal lifestyle or associates without authorization have been warned by the chief surveillance watchdog.

Sir Christopher Rose, the chief surveillance commissioner, said too many investigators working for government departments and local authorities had yet to realize the dangers, particularly for “collateral intrusion against innocent parties”, in the “inadvertent or inappropriate” use of Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites to gather intelligence without proper authorization.

In his annual report Rose also disclosed that the commissioners had strongly criticized some agencies for running undercover operations in which the legally required “oversight officer” had turned out to be part of the operational team.

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