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Yomego Weekly Wrap

Weekly Wrap - Joe Hughes

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By The Drum Team, Editorial

March 30, 2009 | 3 min read

The government wants to monitor all online chatter, including social networks, in its fight against crime. But as well as being highly questionable in terms of personal privacy, this week’s announcement completely fails to understand how these online pl

One argument made in defence of the new regime is that the government will have no interest in what people are saying to one another but will be focused purely on who they’re communicating with and how often. However, in reality, the government is looking for information that could lead to conviction, meaning that, whether we like it or not, service providers will need to keep everything on file – and the government could want access to it at any time.

The new policy will also be extraordinarily expensive. With the country in the midst of a recession, diverting hundreds of millions of pounds towards monitoring social networks does not seem to be the best use of public money.

Setting issues of cost and data security to one side, for those up to no good, by-passing the government’s surveillance will be pure child’s play.

For instance, if a user chooses to create an online account using an overseas provider, that is where their data will be stored. Under the new monitoring scheme, the government would be able to see that user connecting to their chosen provider – but in order to access any further information, the government would have to make a formal request to the authorities governing that overseas provider to be able to access that user’s data. There are plenty of foreign authorities who may simply refuse to grant access. In other cases, the authority’s own data protection and privacy laws may prevent them from granting access. For those who have a reason to hide their social networking activities, getting round this system is that simple.

When it comes to protecting the personal data of ordinary citizens, the government’s record is frankly lamentable. The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust recently suggested that 25% of databases used by the public authorities to store personal data are either fundamentally flawed or else contravene existing European laws on data protection.

What’s more, I’m sure we can all recall a series of media reports involving different ministries within the UK government, where citizens’ personal data was either misplaced or entirely lost. All of this raises serious questions about whether the government is frankly competent to look after our personal data.

We would not have the government tape our conversations in the physical environment of our homes, so how can it be acceptable to record a conversation in a virtual one? And while no one wants to get in the way of effective policing, why are we undermining our right to privacy with schemes that simply won’t work?

Joe Hughes, research & insight manager, Yomego

Yomego Weekly Wrap

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