Are social networks like Facebook and apps like WhatsApp in danger of being banned in Great Britain? It could happen thanks to proposed new legislation there called the Investigatory Powers Bill which is intended to fight terrorism.
The law, if passed, would require companies to keep track of all of their users and to share that information with the government. They would not be allowed to offer any anonymous services.
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Nicknamed the “Snooper’s Charter, ” the bill would prohibit any encryption of messages, tweets and other forms of social media.
How are Facebook and WhatsApp responsible for terrorism? Well all social networks have been used by one terrorist group or another to send messages between their operatives. And it is no simple task to monitor all of the more than 1.5 billion users of Facebook.
Today, anyone with an e mail account — which can be anonymous — can sign up with just about any social media service without revealing their true identity.
While texts and cell phone calls can be easily traced in most places, this is not the case when people use WhatsApp or the Facebook Messenger app. This is exactly what governments are afraid of.
Even the NSA, with all of its cutting edge technology, cannot monitor all of social media.
To critics, however, and the companies which would be affected by the law, this seems to be much like policies held in non-democratic nations which do not allow free speech.
But British Prime Minister David Cameron has said, “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read? My answer to that question is no we must not. I will make sure it is a comprehensive piece of legislation that makes sure we do not allow terrorist safe spaces to communicate with each other.”
Why? Just in case they are plotting something illegal.
But would this only apply after the fact with a warrant, or would the British government snoop on people randomly like the NSA does?
The bill was scuttled last year due to opposition from the ruling Conservative Party’s coalition partner the Liberal Democrats. But after the last elections, the Conservatives now have an absolute majority in the British Parliament and can move ahead with the bill.
Professor Michael Clarke, author of a new review into surveillance by UK intelligence agencies, has warned about what the new law would do to people’s freedom to use the web. He wants a serious public debate on the matter.
He told Sky News, “We’ve got to have a proper public debate about this, which should go on for at least 18 months or two years.”