British intelligence agencies claim they are allowed to read British users’ Facebook messages in a government document released Tuesday by Privacy International.
Pretty much any kind of communication conducted on “platforms” outside the UK is classified as “external communication,” and is fair game for interception by British spies. This includes all British communication on U.S. media sites Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google.
“It is not clear how loosely the British government is applying such an interpretation of ‘external communication’ or how many warrants it may have obtained under those guidelines to intercept the communications of people in the country,” the New York Times reports.
In addition, the statement claims, “Overall, intelligence derived from communications and communications data obtained from foreign intelligence partners, and from the US intelligence agencies in particular, has led directly to the prevention of terrorist attacks and serious crime, and the saving of lives.”
A Privacy International press release explains that “by defining the use of ‘platforms’ such as Facebook, Twitter and Google as ‘external communications’, British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications — simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK.”
Legal Director of Liberty James Welch told Privacy International that Parliament needs to wake up and confront this intrusion of basic privacy rights.
“The security services consider that they’re entitled to read, listen and analyse all our communications on Facebook, Google and other US-based platforms,” Welch said. “If there was any remaining doubt that our snooping laws need a radical overhaul there can be no longer. The Agencies now operate in a legal and ethical vacuum; why the deafening silence from our elected representatives?”
According to Privacy International, Farr was “forced to reveal” the government justification for this “mass surveillance,” a result of UK civil liberties groups challenging the UK’s digital surveillance activities in court, in which Farr is the leading witness. The hearing is scheduled for July 14-18, 2014.