Social-networking site Facebook has criticized government suggestions
that intelligence services should monitor the Web communications of all U.K. citizens.
Facebook chief privacy officer and head of global public policy Chris Kelly
told ZDNet Asia's sister site 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
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 Modernization Program (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 U.K. Internet
communications and telecommunications, including instant messaging and VoIP. The
second strand of IMP is to store that data in a centralized government
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
"This is one of the reasons that particularization 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
"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 Asia's sister site 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.