UK government to collect Facebook data?

Summary:The UK government is currently proposing new measures to keep details on communications between British users on Facebook.Updated: see below.

The UK government is currently proposing new measures to keep details on communications between British users on Facebook.

Updated: see below.

Facebook on the other hand have criticised the intelligence services, saying they were "excessive" and "overkill", according to sister-site ZDNet UK. It's not clear as of yet where the UK government stand on the matter, making it clear to me on the phone to the Home Office this morning:

"We would not be monitoring the content, we're simply keeping up with technological advances we've seen over the years and moving forwards with monitoring. We are still undergoing a massive consultation with Facebook."

This is part of the new IMP (Intercept Modernisation Programme) presented by Vernon Coaker, the UK security minister, including deep packet inspection (which in itself is highly controversial) which would essentially monitor and record all UK traffic, and propose new methods of collecting intelligence for reasons of national security.

It seems nowadays when they wish to slice away a piece of our civil liberties, they use the national security excuse. Just my two cents.

However, Coaker has been quoted as saying, from the Guardian:

"I accept that this is an extremely difficult area. The interface between retaining data, private security and all such issues of privacy is extremely important."

Whilst he may acknowledge the issue in hand, he may underestimate the power of the younger generation and the importance of social networking.

This is part of a new drive to combat organised crime and terrorism. There's two problems which I can see:

  • why would you use Facebook to organise a drug deal, a nuclear weapons shipment or some "off the back of a lorry" electronics?
  • organised crime units would most likely use their phones to contact people directly.

I don't want to say this because it hits a harsh reality that I don't want to accept, and I'm aware of the work the intelligence services are doing at the moment - but it concerns me the number of databases our personal information is stored by the government.

This isn't the first time I've written about law enforcement taking advantage of the social network website. The Home Office released this statement to me only a few minutes ago:

"The government has no interest in the content of people's social network sites and this is not going to be part of our upcoming consultation.

We have been clear that communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change so that law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle terrorism and gather evidence.

To ensure that we keep up with technological advances we intend to consult widely on proposals shortly. We have been very clear that there are no plans for a database containing the content of emails, texts, conversations or social networking sites.”

Updated: a Home Office spokesperson answered some questions emailed to me by others, and one from my self. See below:

Q. What evidence supports the theory that terrorists, extremists and crime gangs use social networks in the first place? A. We have been given information from members of the public who have complained to their local police force or MP about material that they seen online. Additionally complaints to the social networking sites has led to social networking sites themselves discovering criminal activity and disclosing this information to the police.

Q. Will these proposals go before Parliament, eventually, or will it be up to the Home Secretary's discretion? A. Yes all legislation will go through Parliament in the normal way.

Q. The evidence you collect from social networking websites - what specifically will these entail? If they're not "content", then what exactly? A. The specific data needed will depend upon what is required by law enforcement and what data is available. They will be no retention of content.

As a student - would you bail on Facebook if you thought your own government was recording some, or all of your information? TalkBack and spread the love.

Topics: Government : US, Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Government, Social Enterprise, Software

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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