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Facebook Claim that Government Surveillance on the Platform is Rising

The Spectator
If you're still using Facebook without any kind of nagging doubt that somebody might be watching you, I envy your confidence. Facebook have clashed with governments in Europe over allegations that they themselves are overzealous with account monitoring, but in the US it seems to be the other way around.

Two times a year, Facebook release a report which details how many governmental requests for data they have received. The most recent one came out last Wednesday, and it revealed that, supposedly, there had been an 18% rise in the first half of 2015 globally, and that the US was responsible for 65% of that increase. They also reported a 112% rise in cases of governmental content blocking due to local law violation. What kinds of violation this largely refers to is unclear, but it's a tad worrying in any case.

Public awareness of governmental monitoring in the US is more acute than ever, and Facebook have had a number of disputes during which they've refused to hand over account information. It's a sensitive issue, since there are many case when information stored on Facebook becomes vital to a criminal case or some other kind of significant investigation.

What you have to wonder about is just how many of the 26,579 people who posted content that US law enforcement wanted access to were really posing a legitimate threat to anyone or anything. This isn't the first time in recent memory that US governmental pressure on Facebook has made news, it was only recently that prosecutors started trying to push them into releasing more information to help them hunt down benefit fraudsters, a wholly unpopular move.

A big sticking point in cases like these is foreign relations. The more Facebook are characterised as an 'American' company (a label they are doing their utmost to peel away), the less other nations will want to work with them. Strong ties to the US government, or even tenuous ones will often deter countries from co-operating with big companies like Facebook, especially in the Middle East and Asia, two areas that Facebook are trying to extend their reach in at the moment.

The problem is that the more intrinsic to daily activity social media becomes, the more significant it becomes to investigations, whether they be on a local, national, international or global scale. Extremist groups are becoming increasingly active on social media and it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that the people running those media platforms might well be equipped to help track them down. Characterising when such 'back door' access is warranted and when it isn't is another matter.

The fact of it is, governments aren't ever going to stop asking Facebook, Twitter or anyone else to hand over data when they think it's necessary. Transparency is all well and good, but there needs to be at least some assertion that they are willing to work with governments under the right circumstances. Simply releasing figures which seem inherently shocking comes across as a form of indictment, and risk of damaged PR is not a good enough excuse when dealing with national security concerns, as and when they actually emerge.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Facebook Claim that Government Surveillance on the Platform is Rising Reviewed by Callum Davies on Monday, November 16, 2015 Rating: 5

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