Anti-terror chief admits asserting legal power to monitor U.K. citizens’ on social media

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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British government’s top anti-terror chief has admitted the U.K. government have the legal power to monitor citizens’ activities on various U.S. based social media networks including Facebook, Google and Twitter without specific warrants.

The director general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr has said in a witness statement on Tuesday that the medium through which these communications are tracked was justified by claiming that communications sent through such online services were classified as “external communications” due to their passage through U.S. servers.

Such a scenario allows the government to intercept communications between U.K. citizens, even when the police found no basis to suspect an individual of any illegal activity.

The report includes Mr Farr’s statement which says: “The only practical way in which the government can ensure that it is able to obtain at least a fraction of the type of communication in which it is interested is to provide for the interception of a large volume of communication.”

“In the face of this significant and enduring threat from terrorism, serious and organised crime and other national security threats, there is a pressing need for the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies to be able to secure valuable intelligence in order to pursue their statutory objectives.”

It was the response of government to legal challenges by privacy advocates and civil liberties organisations which have accused the U.K. of breaching human rights to privacy as a result of disclosures made in the Edward Snowden leaks last year. Mr Snowden’s leaked documents revealed that extensive snooping was being carried out by the U.S.-based NSA, and GCHQ in the U.K., including the interception of email and other communications.

The legal director of civil rights group Liberty, James Welch has said: “The security services consider that they’re entitled to read, listen and analyse all our communications on Facebook, Google and other US-based platforms.”

Mr Welch has also indicated a radical need to reform snooping laws in Britain.

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