15 May 2012

UK Social Media Snooping Laws – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

UK social media snooping laws

UK Social Media Snooping Laws

News that the government plans to introduce UK social media snooping laws allowing it to monitor private web use, email communications and social networking messages has caused many a furrowed brow since being announced in March 2012.

In simple terms, the measure permits GCHQ, the British intelligence agency based in Cheltenham, to access whatever information they need “on demand”. Not just who’s been viewing which websites but under the new UK social media snooping laws who’s been talking to who and how often. Although a certain amount of this data is recorded at present and available to a shortlist of approved bodies, such as police and local councils. The new rules broaden the scope and allow for ‘real-time’ monitoring of web use, voice calls and messaging.

Unsurprisingly, a Home Office spokesman has defended the move for UK social media snooping laws. Saying that the legislation apparently motivated by a desire to tackle terrorism and organised crime would not represent a complete ‘database’ of everyone’s web use. However, it would potentially compel internet service providers (ISPs) to furnish police or security services with users’ internet footprints. This includes any communications swapped on social media systems such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype.

It’s too early to say how web surfers will respond to the UK social media snooping laws. Will they desert big name ISPs and corporate entities? Instead going in favour of more subterranean communication channels such as virtual private networks (VPNs)? Will concerns over data security reverse the trend for online retail?

At SEO Web Marketing, we think it’s particularly important for online businesses to fully grasp of the issues at stake. Only partly because they’ll need to understand their own privacy policies and obligations for storing user data. Equally importantly, they might find themselves needing to reassure customers who are tempted to reduce the scale of their online interactions over fears of Orwellian snooping by the state.

So, deep breath: what are the UK social media snooping laws?

  1. The government has stressed that the actual content of calls and emails will not generally be stored. Just merely who made them, when, to whom, and how often. Therefore, we can safely conclude that technically ‘private’ channels such as Facebook and emails will not normally be targeted for monitoring.
  2. The rules appear to allow ‘authorised agencies’ to request location data about a given person. Such as by tracing a mobile phone signal. This must be available ‘on demand’. In other words, not following a formal application procedure to the ISP or mobile phone company.
  3. While the new regime will doubtless have implications for how companies store and dispose of user data. The protocols for this will only emerge over time. The whole issue still needs to be debated by both Houses of Parliament before being enshrined as law. So anyone already panicking over the repercussions may be getting flustered too soon.

Pro-privacy campaigners have been quick to respond. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, has gone on record as saying the move is “an absolute attack on privacy online. It is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses.”

Something needs to be in place especially after the 2011 UK Riots. Let’s just hope we can compromise on the subject with the UK government.

George Orwell R.I.P