Facebook attacks gov't web-monitoring plans

Facebook attacks gov't web-monitoring plans

Summary: Chief privacy officer Chris Kelly says government proposals to track all social-networking traffic data would be unnecessary, impractical and possibly bad for business

TOPICS: Security

Social-networking site Facebook has criticised government suggestions that intelligence services should monitor the web communications of all UK citizens.

Facebook chief privacy officer and head of global public policy Chris Kelly told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the government proposals, which include monitoring social-networking sites, were excessive.

"We think monitoring all user traffic is overkill," Kelly said. "There is legislation to allow law enforcement access to traffic data [of suspects]. We are not convinced at this time that expansion of those channels is necessary."

Kelly was responding to a speech made by Home Office security minister Vernon Coaker on 18 March at a meeting of the House of Commons Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee. Coaker said the EU Data Retention Directive, which requires internet service providers to retain traffic data for at least 12 months, did not go far enough, as the directive did not apply to social-networking providers.

Coaker said the government was considering retaining traffic data for all instant messaging and communications on social-networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo, as part of its Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP).

The IMP, a proposed overhaul of intelligence service systems, has two strands. First, the government would use deep packet inspection to monitor and record the traffic data of all UK internet communications and telecommunications, including instant messaging and VoIP. The second strand of IMP is to store that data in a centralised government database.

Kelly said if the government monitors social-networking users, Facebook's business could suffer, as people might dislike the privacy implications of their internet and social-networking traffic data being monitored by the state.

"One of the reasons that Facebook has been so successful is that it provides greater privacy controls than any other [social-networking service] on the internet," Kelly said. "The privacy controls allow people to share information in a comfortable, safe and trusted environment."

Kelly said there was a risk some people may perceive government monitoring as invasive, and so stop using Facebook services. He added that this risk is one of the reasons why police currently only monitor those they suspect of criminality.

"This is one of the reasons that particularisation has been required to get access to that information," Kelly said. "The idea of doing full monitoring of traffic is a boil-the-ocean strategy."

Kelly added that the government suggestions were also impractical from a technical point of view, and may be self-defeating for counter-terrorism efforts.

"There are design and computing-power limitations, and strategic limits on human power to analyse all that information," Kelly said. "That's why [interception] needs to be targeted."

Facebook has not yet lobbied the government over its IMP proposals, but may do so, Kelly said.

"We haven't engaged the government directly at this point," he added. "We are happy to have a conversation with any law-enforcement authority around any activity on Facebook."

Kelly spoke to ZDNet UK at the e-Crime Congress in London on Tuesday.

The Home Office had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Maybe.....

    I've seen too many spy movies recently but real cyber criminals will not be using facebook email msn to plot the next big act of terrorism..... if they then thye deserve ot get caught...

    They are likely to be using some underground HIGH level SSH triple AES/blowfish (or some other encryption algorithm) to communicate with eachother if not in person...

    but what do i know im just a pleb code monkey.

    In my opinion its a form of control & excessive monitoring over generally law abiding people.
  • True

    Until 60s it was "anticommunism". Than "national security". The motto of nowadays is "antiterrorism". Show the Big Enemy to the people - they will forget about bad taxation policy. Show couple of dead bodies, call it "terror" - they will accept anything that government will do. They will forget bad management, economical crisis, environmental pollution, loss of privacy... Show it on High Definition and the human beings become slaves at their good will.

    It's just a blackmail. 1000 years ago enslaver was saying "obey or I'll kill you". Nowadays it sounds like "obey or you'll be killed by evil people".

    Welcome to 21 century.
  • The politics of Fear

    It's actually quite well explained and documented and is termed "The Politics of Fear".

    The old style politicians would look at their constituency and dream up ways in which they could improve the lot of the long suffering electors. They would go out on the stump with promises of "Lower Taxation", "Better amenities" etc etc. Trouble was, nobody believed them and even if they did, they were promising the same stuff as the other guy anyway. It just wasn't working for them. Someone then noticed that the people being gung ho on "The Enemy" in times of war almost always got back in. So the logic went like this.

    We can't get any headway promising to improve their lot out there in pleb-land, so instead we will pump up the level of fear in the electorate on particular subjects, the best ones being:

    Organised Criminals
    Drug Dealers
    and .. tadaaah

    The so called "Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse".


    If you look any virtually any of the over-the-top new legislative proposals over the last few decades, they will be designed to tackle or even "Crack Down On" (they love that one) one or more of the above.

    The politicians can then role out their road shows and boast that they are the only ones who will save us from the above.

    It seems fear trumps hope every time.
    Andrew Meredith
  • :-(

    What's unfortunate is that we sit here and write about it, while those in power work towards making it real.