Recent Endorsements

You've left us really enthused about the whole digital dimension and we're looking forward to developing our plan with your support.
Simon Beardow - Deputy Director, British Council, Vietnam

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Most Appalling Spying Machine Ever Invented

Seal of the Office of the Director of National...Image via Wikipedia
During an interview with a Russian news site, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange describes Facebook as:

"the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S. intelligence."

Facebook, Google, Yahoo – all these major US organizations have built-in interfaces for US intelligence. It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena. They have an interface that they have developed for US intelligence to use.

Now, is it the case that Facebook is actually run by US intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure on them. And it’s costly for them to hand out records one by one, so they have automated the process. Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook, they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies in building this database for them

It is a little surprising that this outburst is so vitriolic, given that WikLeaks itself has a Facebook Page and Facebook refused to shut them down, even though other US-based companies such as PayPal severed their connections with WikiLeaks.

Not surprisingly Facebook refutes Assange's claims and a company spokesman, in a written statement to CNet, is on record as saying that they only do what's legal and nothing more. Neither have they automated the process of data retrieval according to their rebuttal.

"We don't respond to pressure, we respond to compulsory legal process. There has never been a time we have been pressured to turn over data [and] we fight every time we believe the legal process is insufficient. The legal standards for compelling a company to turn over data are determined by the laws of the country, and we respect that standard."

This is not to say that there aren't companies who haven't built agency intefaces to cater for government requests for information. A case in point is the telco Spint, whose GPS data has reportedly been used more than 8 million times by the local constabulary.

Clearly there are some major privacy issues about the release of such data without obtaining the owner's prior permission.

Facebook have an online form for enforcement, law offices and government agencies to use when requesting information.

So is there a grain of truth in what Assange is suggesting? We shall never know if intelligence agencies are able to tap into private data but it is a safe bet that they can and do.

For those that are really concerned by this then the answer is simple, do not engage in social media and if your do, adjust your privacy settings to exclude anything you don't wish to share.
Enhanced by Zemanta

1 comment:

Cherry said...

I used to teach media and media audiences modules at MA levels and always included sessions on the self-surveillance aspects of social media which can be easily be accessed by other bodies and organisations- criminals for identity theft on one hand and government/intelligence agencies on the other. Tapping into our social media discussions is just the next technological step up from phone tapping which, in times of 'national emergency' is considered justified by governments (as well as certain Sunday tabloids at other times when it comes to celebrities!)

TheDigitalConsultant Shop

Blog Archive