MI5 to Start Monitoring Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc.
In the United Kingdom, police and intelligence officers are treading into that dangerous line of invasion of privacy and security by being given permission to monitor all activity on social networking sites and other forms of digital communication. The public consensus by the British people is that the move is an “attack on privacy.”
Home Secretary Theresa May says that she plans to introduce legislature that will allow police officers and intelligence agents to monitor activity on Facebook, Twitter, online gaming websites, and Skype. And all of this will be possible quickly and easily. According to a few preliminary reports, this legislation, if allowed to pass, would give police access to this information “on demand” and “in real time.”
Home Office officials responded to the outcry from the public, saying that access to that information would allow law enforcement officials to keep up with criminals and their plans. They also said that warrants would still be required before any law enforcement officer was allowed to monitor the activity.
On the other hand, several civil liberties groups have expressed their deep concern about the initiative. Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, described it as “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance as in China and Iran. This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses,” he said. David Davis, the former Conservative shadow Home Secretary, said the state was unnecessarily extending its power to “snoop” on its citizens.
“It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals,” the MP said. “It is absolutely everybody. Historically, governments have been kept out of our private lives. They don’t need this law to protect us. This is an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary innocent people in vast numbers.”
This is not the first time a member of the British government has tried to instate this kind of deep monitoring police. Jacqui Smith, the former Labor Home Secretary, also had plans for a similar piece of legislation. However, she soon abandoned those plans to store information of every phone call, email, or website visited after the plan was met with very strong opposition from the public.
Theresa May, however, is confident that her proposed legislation will pass because she has the support of the Liberal Democrat Party. Senior Liberal Democrat backbenchers are believed to have been briefed by their ministers on the move and are not expected to rebel in any parliamentary vote. A senior adviser to Nick Clegg said he had been persuaded of the merits of extending the police and security service powers but insisted they would be “carefully looking at the detail”. “The law is not keeping pace with the technology and our national security is being eroded on a daily basis,” the adviser said.
Confirming the legislation would be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows”, the Home Office said: “We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes. Communications data includes time, duration and dialing numbers of a phone call or an email address. It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of Government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications.”