The fact that one can find out a lot about a person’s interests, movements and opinions from their Facebook and Twitter accounts, Google searches and messages exchanged via messaging platforms has not been lost on law enforcement agencies worldwide.
Indeed, it would be surprising if these agencies chose not to try and access the information that can considerably speed up their investigation. So, the question is not whether they are doing it or not but whether they should be able to.
The issue was discussed at length at the Internet Governance Forum held in Nairobi, and things we already know were repeated for the umpteenth time.
Yes, governments routinely ask Internet companies to share the data they have. In fact, “every decent-sized U.S. telecoms and Internet company has a team that does nothing but respond to requests for information,” privacy activist and researcher Christopher Soghoian Soghoian told Reuters.
Most of the time, these requests are granted. As wrong as it seems at first glance – and possibly even at second, third and fourth – Google and Yahoo even profit by it, charging respectively $25 and $20 for sharing the data regarding an individual. Facebook and Microsoft do it for free.
It is yet impossible to know the number of the granted request, since the U.S. law currently doesn’t require courts to acknowledge them and make them public. Unfortunately, the law that says that the cumulative number of telephone wire-tapping instances must be made public in court reports has been passed before information requests to Internet companies became an everyday reality – and has still not be changed to include them.
And the situation in other countries is even worse. Polish privacy advocate Katarzyna Szymielewicz pointed out that “government agencies throughout the world are pushing companies to collect even more data than is needed for their business purposes.”
In the end, the conclusion always seems to be the same. Governments and their agencies are always testing the rules and try to see what they can get away with. The onus for proving their actions wrong and for campaigning to introduce laws that will curb their reach has always been and always will be on the vociferous and (hopefully) persistent minority of those who cherish their privacy and freedoms.