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Facebook Weathers Benefit Fraud Privacy Storm


It's going to be very difficult for me to get through this one without getting riled. Prosecutors in the States have started putting Facebook under more pressure to release account details for potential benefit fraudsters. Currently they are being forced to turn over 381 accounts' worth of information, based on the notion that people are claiming disability benefit, whilst posting pictures of themselves engaging in 'vigorous activities' on the site. The warrant would allow prosecutors to delve into profiles and find out whether or not this is the case.

Facebook initially flatly refused the demands (issued by New York state), with Microsoft and Google fighting in their corner, but they were subsequently ordered to comply by the court. Among the people targeted by the warrants are police officers and fire-fighters, some of whom are accused of faking illness in the wake of the September 11th World Trade Centre attack. Facebook argued that the request was too nonspecific, and would lead to the government mining data that wasn't actually pertinent to any crime.

Civil liberties groups also argued that by ruling on Facebook's right to block the order, rather than the actual legality of the warrants, the court had sidestepped the real crux of the matter. This fight has been raging back and forth since 2013 and Facebook were well within their rights to push back, so it's a little disheartening to see them being forced to comply like this. One of the biggest issues with this is that any information turned over to the authorities would remain in their hands indefinitely, with the user having no real say in it, even if it turns out the data is useless to them.

Clearly, Facebook aren't thrilled about the way this has turned out and are currently considering filing an appeal. It's easy to see where they're coming from, if authorities can just pull data from the site at any time they want, where's the line? The disparity between the exponential growth of the internet and governmental attempts to control it seems to be increasing with every passing day. It's these kinds of cases that show that as far as social media and privacy laws are concerned, the rulebook almost needs to be thrown out.

It's a cautionary message to active Facebook users, more than anything else. The state of play with privacy of information doesn't sit still for more than a minute at the moment and if you put something incriminating online, any number of things could happen to place it in somebody else's hands.

Callum Davies

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 Weathers Benefit Fraud Privacy Storm Reviewed by Unknown on Thursday, July 23, 2015 Rating: 5

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