The UK Conservative and US governments have been asking social media companies to hand over our personal information at unprecedented levels, new analysis reveals. And while government requests to snoop on our online private lives are nothing new, the rate at which the Tories and their US counterparts are asking for information is cause for concern.
As The Financial Times (FT) originally reported [paywall], consultancy firm Deloitte has released its latest analysis of public data in both the UK and the US. And after The Canary analysed Deloitte’s data, it found that:
- Governments made a total, on average, of 704,678 requests to just 26 companies in 2016.
- This was a 98% increase in requests since 2013.
- On average, there were 27,103 requests per company; the equivalent of 74 per company per day. But these figures peaked in 2015, at 28,409 requests.
- Facebook had a total of 61,703 requests made to it.
- 12.3% of government requests were made with search warrants, to probe people’s full data.
- Companies’ response rate to governments has remained steady at 78%.
The FT heralded [paywall] the news as vindicating “claims from some companies that they face an impossible task in dealing with requests for information”. But it also pointed to a darker aspect of the story. As Tomaso Falchetta, Advocacy and Policy Lead at Privacy International, told the FT:
Because data requests vary so much, it’s difficult to tell what is really at stake… Companies can play a role in resisting requests… that’s a role they should continue to play.
And Deloitte’s analysis comes less than a year after the Tories passed a “horrifying” law. One which has had worrying implications for every person’s civil liberties.
A darker side to the Tories’ monitoring
As The Canary previously reported, the Investigatory Powers (IP) Act became law in November 2016. It allows the government to:
- Force internet service providers (ISPs) to store a record of our web browsing activity.
- Grant a long list of officials access to those records.
- Give the security services the ability to hack devices, while also legitimising their own collection of our data in bulk.
Executive Director of the Open Rights Group Jim Killock said at the time:
It is one of the most extreme surveillance laws ever passed in a democracy. The IP Act will have an impact that goes beyond the UK’s shores. It is likely that other countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records, will use this law to justify their own intrusive surveillance powers.
But while the Tories want to have unlimited access to the public’s data, they’re not so keen when the shoe is on the other foot. Because, as The Canary reported in August, Theresa May’s government withheld 986 documents from public scrutiny in 2016; more than double the number it kept secret in 2013. The files were due to be published under the 30-year release rule, but the Tories cited ‘national security concerns’ as a reason to keep them hidden.
Big Brother. Rebooted.
The media makes much, for example, of the nature of North Korea’s authoritarian, draconian state. But while the UK trumpets its own ‘democratic’ values, and enjoys spreading them around the world, a look closer to home shows we’re not so free as we may like to think. And if George Orwell were around to rewrite 1984, May’s Conservative government would probably be a good place for him to start.
– Learn more about how to protect your privacy with the Open Rights Group.
– Support The Canary if you appreciate the work we do.
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