Google, Twitter and Facebook are increasingly co-opted for surveillance

Posted: October 2, 2011 in US News

Georgina Prodhan
Reuters
October2, 2011

(Reuters) – Internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are increasingly co-opted for surveillance work as the information they gather proves irresistible to law enforcement agencies, Web experts said this week.

Although such companies try to keep their users’ information private, their business models depend on exploiting it to sell targeted advertising, and when governments demand they hand it over, they have little choice but to comply.

Suggestions that BlackBerry maker RIM might give user data to British police after its messenger service was used to coordinate riots this summer caused outrage — as has the spying on social media users by more oppressive governments.

But the vast amount of personal information that companies like Google collect to run their businesses has become simply too valuable for police and governments to ignore, delegates to the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi said.

“When the possibility exists for information to be obtained that wasn’t possible before, it’s entirely understandable that law enforcement is interested,” Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf told Reuters in an interview.

“Then the issue would be, what’s the right policy? And that, or course, engenders a lot of debate,” said Cerf, who is recognized as one of the “fathers of the Internet” for his early work in areas including communications protocols and email.

Demands from governments for Internet companies to hand over user information have become routine, according to online privacy researcher and activist Christopher Soghoian, who makes extensive use of freedom-of-information requests in his work.

“Every decent-sized U.S. telecoms and Internet company has a team that does nothing but respond to requests for information,” Soghoian told Reuters in an interview.

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