Our government loves to snoop. Nick Cohen explained in the Spectator last year why Britain is becoming a surveillance state, and now we have an indication of how much data they have attempted to extract from social networks. Facebook has released its first figures on government requests for data on its users. As the chart below shows, the UK comes third for the amount of data requested, behind the United States and India:
It’s a similar story for Twitter, whose figures from January to June 2013 show that the UK is again third for number of requests, behind the same countries as Facebook:
On the internet telephoning service Skype, the UK government even made more requests last year than any other country. Compared to 1,154 from the US government, the UK made 1,268 requests for data on 2,720 users.
Not all of these requests have led to the results the government wanted. On Facebook, a third of the requests were denied. On Twitter, just 15 per cent of requests resulted in some or all of the information provided. As Big Brother Watch asks, are these data requests being commissioned too easily? Such intrusions into the private data of individuals are supposed to be signed off from the government when they are deemed ‘necessary and proportionate’.
But the Tories have not quite given up their dreams of a Communications Data bill, which aims to give the government even more powers for online snooping. Do they really need more power, when this data suggests they are able to make a huge number of requests for information? It's difficult to know, as there hasn't been a great effort from the government to be transparent about these sorts of requests. As Colin Stretch of Facebook says ‘we strongly encourage all governments to provide greater transparency about their efforts aimed at keeping the public safe, and we will continue to be aggressive advocates for greater disclosure'.
Comms Data seems off the table for the time being, thanks to the Lib Dems (although Isabel reported a plan to reintroduce it while Nick Clegg's back is turned), but the Tories would do well to listen to Stretch if they want to build public support for handing over even greater snooping powers.