U.K. Says Mass Surveillance of Social Media Is Completely Legal

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Privacy International, a charity "committed to fighting for the right to privacy across the world," has helped uncover the United Kingdom's legal justification for its policy allowing unlimited social media surveillance. This revelation means Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google searches can be accessed without individual intercept warrants because they are defined as "external communications," and not subject to normal privacy rules. 

Charles Farr, Director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, helped bring clarity to the surveillance law. In a statement, Farr explained how the vague legality around surveillance allows for mass interception of social media. The statement was created in response to legal challenges to the law, brought by Privacy International and this is the first time the U.K. government has publicly commented on this.

Privacy International explained further:

By defining the use of ‘platforms’ such as Facebook, Twitter and Google as ‘external communications’, British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications – simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK.”

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: "Intelligence agencies cannot be considered accountable to parliament and to the public they serve when their actions are obfuscated through secret interpretations of byzantine laws.

Several privacy organizations along with Privacy International have launched a legal challenge of this surveillance. Between July 14th and 18th, the Investigatory Powers Tribunal will hear their case. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.