COMMENT: Government to monitor Facebook and online games

You don’t have to look too far into the pages of Pocket-lint and practically every other news site to find increasingly common reports of plans to monitor online activity. You’d perhaps be naive to think that they are not already able to be monitored, but this is an issue receiving increasing attention.

Pocket-lint readers will remember the news that the government plans a massive database to keep tabs on what we got up to, something Jacqui Smith has this week explicitly ruled out. But current plans are entering consultation to ensure that any new legislation has the scope to be effective. Jacqui Smith said: "Terrorism has changed, is changing, and will continue to change ... we need to be sure that the law evolves as the threat changes".

Of course, we all have the interests of domestic security at heart, but seriously, do you want to monitor Facebook? It reminds me of the fantastic video lurking over at albumoftheday (link below) basically detailing how Facebook could be a massive CIA plot to harvest data. Now I don’t know any terrorists (ok, there was one at my school, but we’re not in contact any more), but surely you’re not going to start plotting your various global conspiracies through popular social networking sites. Especially when every website under the sun hints at the Government’s plan to do so.

So what about other suggested online venues? Does the international terrorist community gather online to play games? Last night I took the beta of Call of Duty: World at War for a spin. I’ve never really taken it seriously when someone said: "Jesus man, I’m going to kill you" but perhaps I’ve been looking at it in the wrong light? It’s not a turn of phrase: it’s a statement of intent. Where do you draw the line? Will I get in trouble for always playing the terrorist faction? I've always preferred the Brotherhood over GDI too.

Ok, so I’m taking a light-hearted dig at something that is a potentially serious matter. The internet age has changed the way agencies have to gather data. On one hand you might not need to slip a physical listening device into a telephone as glamorised in Cold War movies, but on the other hand, there are now so many different means of communication. This legislation ultimately needs to be adequate to cope with all the threats presented and provide the legal scope to gather and interpret this data, not only to take pre-emptive action to avert terrorist or criminal activity, but also to bring about subsequent convictions.

What does scare me though is data security. We are constantly being reminded to shed our junk mail, whilst official organisations lose our data with wanton abandonment. As the Home Office collects all this data what assurances are we going to get that it is secure?

For once I agree with Chris Huhne MP: "This Government has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted with sensitive data. There is little reason to think ministers will be any less slapdash with our phone and internet records". Whilst the state watches us, who will watch them?


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