Civil liberties

Now 'Big Brother' targets Facebook

Minister wants government database to monitor social networking sites

Millions of Britons who use social networking sites such as Facebook could soon have their every move monitored by the Government and saved on a "Big Brother" database.

Ministers faced a civil liberties outcry last night over the plans, with accusations of excessive snooping on the private lives of law-abiding citizens.

The idea to police MySpace, Bebo and Facebook comes on top of plans to store information about every phone call, email and internet visit made by everyone in the United Kingdom. Almost half the British population – some 25 million people – are thought to use social networking sites. There are already proposals under a European Union directive – dating back to after the 7 July 2005 bombs – for emails and internet usage to be monitored and added to a planned database to track terror plots.

But technology has moved on in the past three years, and the use of social networking sites has boomed – so security services fear that that has left a loophole for terrorists and criminal gangs to exploit.

To close this loophole, Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, has disclosed that social networking sites could be forced to retain information about users' web-browsing habits. They could be required to hold data about every person users correspond with via the sites, although the contents of messages sent would not be collected. Mr Coaker said: "Social networking sites, such as MySpace or Bebo, are not covered by the directive. That is one reason why the Government are looking at what we should do about the intercept modernisation programme because there are certain aspects of communications which are not covered by the directive."

In exchanges with the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Tom Brake, he insisted: "I accept this is an extremely difficult area. The interface between retaining data, private security and all such issues of privacy is extremely important. It is absolutely right to point out the difficulty of ensuring we maintain a capability and a capacity to deal with crime and issues of national security – and where that butts up against issues of privacy."

Facebook boasts 17 million Britons as members. Bebo, which caters mainly for teenagers and young adults, has more than 10 million users. A similar number of music fans are thought to use MySpace.

Moves to include the sites in mass surveillance of Britons' internet habits has provoked alarm among MPs, civil liberties groups and security experts.

Mr Brake said: "Plans to monitor our phone and email records threaten to be the most expensive snooper's charter in history. It is deeply worrying that they now intend to monitor social networking sites which contain very sensitive data like sexual orientation, religious beliefs and political views. Given the Government's disastrous record with large IT projects and data security, it is likely that data will leak out of every memory stick, port and disk drive when they start monitoring Facebook, Bebo and MySpace."

Isabella Sankey, policy director at Liberty, said: "Even before you throw Facebook and other social networking sites into the mix, the proposed central communications database is a terrifying prospect. It would allow the Government to record every email, text message and phone call and would turn millions of innocent Britons into permanent suspects."

Richard Clayton, a computer security expert at Cambridge University, said: "What they are doing is looking at who you communicate with and who your friends are, which is greatly intrusive into your private life."

Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said yesterday that it was considering lobbying ministers over the proposal, which he called "overkill".

A Home Office spokeswoman said the Government was not interested in the content of emails, texts, conversations or social networking sites. She added: "We have been clear that communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change so law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle terrorism and gather evidence."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - London - up to £44,000

£38000 - £44000 per annum + bonus and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manag...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Quality Control Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing company is a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultants - Liverpool

£27300 - £36400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Self-employed B2B Sales Consult...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn