Government to unveil plans for monitoring social media and internet activity
You might have seen the most recent round of The Economist’s famous ‘where do you stand’ pairs of adverts – both sides of a topical issue are presented and the public are invited to join the debate.
The most recent pair of ads posed the question ‘social media should/should not be censored’, using arguments ranging from social media fuelling the London riots to dictatorial regimeslimiting access to social media to try and convince us which side of the argument to take. While previously it was simply a thought, new legislation suggests that it might become a reality.
The government recently unveiled plans to expand its surveillance capabilities to monitor the email, internet and phone activity of every resident in the UK. The government aims to make this process the first step in its plans to modernise their security and defence networks.
How it works
Internet companies will install hardware that will allow GCHQ to view online activity on an ‘on demand’ basis, which they will be able to do without obtaining a warrant. They would, however, require a warrant to access content within emails, web forms or phone calls
Defenders of the proposal have claimed that this measure is vital to combat and guard against the growing terror threats facing modern Br
itain, allowing them to keep abreast of modern technological developments as the threats evolve with them, especially in the run-up to the Olympics. But civil liberties groups and numerous government backbenchers have condemned the proposal as a breach of privacy.
A previous proposal by the Labour government to create a centralised database of all phone calls and emails made in Britain was dropped after widespread anger.
Is it for our own good?
This announcement comes a few short months after EC Vice President Viviane Reding proposed more uniform regulations on how large companies like Facebook and Google handle user data, while also suggesting that the EU should organise its own central database of EU resident data for security and monitoring purposes. While both these proposals come under the umbrella of protecting user rights, the sites in question admit (to varying degrees) the levels of access they have, and the various ways they use our data. And while a user enters into an agreement with a site like Facebook to have certain data used for advertising purposes, the knowledge that all our data is being monitored will draw inevitable and fearful Big Brother comparisons. Recent arguments over whether employers have rights to the social media account details of their users may pale into insignificance.
Optimists suggest that this might reduce abhorrent online activity and promote a healthier relationship with the web if it forces us to be more conscientious about what is being shared. However, realists doubt that this will do much to cause us to police our own internet habits.
Of course, until a proposal for the Bill is officially presented (it is rumoured to be covered in the Queen’s upcoming speech in May) the information surrounding the proposal is speculation only. But one thing is certain: if this Bill is ever to be passed, considerable discussion needs to be had regarding what is monitoring and what is an invasion of privacy, which will have far-reaching implications.