UK Firms Block Facebook Over Legal Fears

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Over 50 percent of UK organisations block access to social media sites, because Facebook data could be required in legal eDisclosure requests

New research from an international law firm has shown that the majority of UK firms are now blocking access to social media websites such as Facebook, due to concerns that information from these sites is increasingly being demanded for regulatory investigations.

Announcing the results of the 2009 Litigation Trends survey, the global law firm Fulbright & Jaworski International found that half of the respondents (52 percent in the UK and 46 percent in the US) claim to block employees accessing social networking websites.

Two in five of all corporates (42 percent) block the most popular personal social networking sites, namely Facebook, MySpace and Bebo, while 30 percent block business-related networking sites such as LinkedIn and Plaxo.

YouTube is also blocked by more than a third of companies (37 percent).

Fulbright feels the high number of companies banning such social media sites is understandable, considering the fact that 18 percent of UK companies have been asked to produce electronic information from such websites as part of an electronic discovery request in legal proceedings. In the US, this figure stood at four percent.

“For some businesses, networking sites can provide an efficient platform for keeping up-to-date with the latest developments and maintaining a profile in their industry,” said Melanie Ryan, a Fulbright partner. “For those businesses that block access, such benefits are outweighed by the possible legal risks, including the inadvertent disclosure of confidential or proprietary information and the resulting claims or fines imposed by their regulators – not to mention, the security threat to their IT systems.”

Back in July, the wife of Sir John Sawers, the new boss of the UK’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, inadvertently posted photos of her husband on Facebook, revealing his job in the process, in what was considered a serious security breech.

The UK military meanwhile has taken a less strict view of Facebook usage than their American cousins, but the British police for example are being advised not to use it on work devices.

“The policy in Bedfordshire is reasonable usage of the Internet is OK,” said Jim Hitch, mobile data project manager at Bedfordshire Police. “We have a ‘no Facebook policy’ – and quite why police officers want to put all their details on Facebook, I don’t understand,” he told eWEEK Europe.

Sites like Facebook have certainly caused debate within corporates, mostly over bandwidth and time wasting concerns, yet the legal risks associated with using these websites has not really been explored.

Information risk specialist Recommind for example believes that UK firms are facing a ticking time bomb as eDisclosure becomes increasingly common in the UK, and use of social media sky rockets across all industries.

It cites its own research, which revealed that UK businesses are ill-equipped to cope with this increase – as 89 percent of companies have no dedicated guidelines in place to control the use of these tools, and ultimately, the spread of information through these channels.

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“Businesses need to wake up to the risks,” said Craig Carpenter, VP general counsel at Recommind. “It’s no longer enough just to block employee access to certain sites – these tools are pervasive and staff will always find a way round any restrictions. Too many UK organisations are still labouring under the misapprehension that eDisclosure is an American problem, but it is increasingly a universal concern affecting businesses all over the world.”

“With information from social media sites now being required – on top of the already ever-expanding volume of email, documents and other electronically stored information – the potential cost and time implications for dealing with such requests are huge,” he warned.


Author: Tom Jowitt
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