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Social Media Data Shared By GCHQ WIth Foreign Governments

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Facebook and Twitter accounts are being analysed by intelligence agencies, warns Privacy International

A salient warning about people’s online data has been issued by the civil rights campaign group Privacy International.

It warned that it had “obtained previously unseen government documents that reveal British spy agency GCHQ collects social media information on potentially millions of people.”

It added that these spy agencies have built up “massive databases” on people, and these intelligence services have been sharing this information (potentially for decades) with “foreign governments, law enforcement and industry.”

I Spy With My Little Eye

To make matters worse, it said that there is a chronic lack of oversight by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner (the IPCO is the body tasked with overseeing intelligence agencies’ activities) thanks to the use of ‘private contractors’.

It also said that there are ‘currently no safeguards in place to prevent misuse of the systems by third party contractors.’

Privacy International said that GCHQ typically collected and accesses this data by gaining access to private companies’ databases.

And it seems that the UK intelligence agencies hold databases of people’s social media data, the firm such confirmation that this type of information is collected by the UK intelligence agencies and held in large databases.

Privacy International said it would be back in court this week in Southwark to continue its challenge of the UK government’s collection of data from private company and/or organisation databases.

“The intelligence agencies’ practices in relation to bulk data were previously found to be unlawful,” stated Millie Graham Wood, Solicitor at Privacy International. “After three years of litigation, just before the court hearing we learn not only are safeguards for sharing our sensitive data non-existent, but the government has databases with our social media information and is potentially sharing access to this information with foreign governments.”

“The risks associated with these activities are painfully obvious,” she added. “We are pleased the IPCO is keen to look at these activities as a matter of urgency and the report is publicly available in the near future.”

Its Needed

GCHQ and other UK intelligence agencies for their part argue that this sort of intrusion into people’s online data is needed to protect national security.

Earlier this month for example, Jeremy Fleming, the new head of GCHQ, said that online threats are now as significant as those posed by states or militants.

He said that increased government funding was being used to “make GCHQ a cyber organisation” as well as one that carries out roles in international intelligence and countering militant threats.

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