Last week, the British government officially confirmed the extent of their surveillance of British citizens for the first time –and they claimed that it is totally legal.
According to Charles Farr, Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, even supposedly private channels on social media, such as direct messages, can be assessed and viewed without the need for a warrant.
In fact, even emails to non-British citizens outside of the UK can be subject to surveillance without any laws being broken.
Last week’s revelations have led many to claim that the British government have been exploiting loopholes in the law under the noses of Parliament. There has even been a widespread call for the overhaul of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), under which “internal” communications require a warrant to be monitored but “external” communications, such as emails to those abroad, don’t require a warrant.
However, searches on sites such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are also considered by the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism to be “external” communications as they require contact with a web-based platform abroad. Critics consider this to be an unlawful exploitation of the guidelines.
In his statement, Farr referred to Prism but wouldn’t confirm the existence of Tempora, the interception programme that has been the subject of much scrutiny already.
The existence of laws that permit widespread surveillance and the admission of the use of such technologies shouldn’t shock us in a post-Snowden world, but the very fact that governments feel no shame about spying on their citizens should. This is yet another reminder that “security” comes at the price of personal freedom – a freedom that we need to protect.
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