Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 15:11 UK

Sussex Police attacked over 'Big Brother' online action

Stephen Webber
Stephen Webber claimed Sussex Police was acting like "Big Brother"

A man has criticised Sussex Police after he discovered they were monitoring his updates on a social networking website.

Stephen Webber, from Brighton, said he was surprised when he spotted that the force had become one of his followers on Twitter.

He said the way they made their presence known was like "Big Brother".

Sussex Police said there was "nothing sinister" about them following messages people publish online.

Twitter is a social networking site which allows people to post messages, or tweets, of up to 140 characters online.

'Fears or rumours'

Users can become fans or "followers" of other members to regularly view their updates.

Mr Webber said: "I had an e-mail to say that Sussex Police were following me on Twitter, which seemed very strange.

"If somebody is going to do something very, very dodgy they're not going to talk about it openly online."

We use Twitter to engage with the community in a really immediate way - it's really helpful for us because we can allay any fears or rumours going round
Christine Smith, Sussex Police

And what drew his attention most, when he looked at the Sussex Police account, was the force also appeared to be following more than 1,700 other people on the Twitter website, he added.

He said: "It struck me as somewhat sinister that they would be following that many people on Twitter.

"It just seems like it's Big Brother going too far."

He added: "I simply feel they have gone about it in a slightly misguided way by not announcing it.

"Perhaps a more user-friendly approach might be to emphasise community outreach in a profile description, and thus emphasise that key element of why they are there in the first place."

Christine Smith, Sussex Police web administrator, said: "We use Twitter to engage with the community in a really immediate way. It's really helpful for us because we can allay any fears or rumours going round.

"We can also engage with them and ask them what they want. It's better than traditional media in that sense."

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