Peshawar: In today’s world, the Internet has become the most important part of our lives. Social media influence brings more and more people together and the massive crowds congregate with each other. Edward Snowden leaks have left everyone feeling insecure and worried about their data privacy. Various social media applications transparency reports further revealed receiving user data requests by different governments and their law enforcement agencies making it the biggest privacy issue of this time with name surveillance for preventions of such crimes.
Surveillance, which is used by law enforcement agencies for prevention of crimes both online and offline, is often a violation of user privacy. Surveillance agencies, during collection of user data from different social media portals can only identify suspects. This however does not help with crime prevention or offer solutions but the mere act data collection on a massive scale violates privacy of the citizen. Different civil liberties groups and activist opposed are now waging a movement against law enforcement agencies to stop such incidental data collections in this way. Furhan Husain, Digital Rights Researcher and Trainer, Bytes for All Pakistan says that the surveillance in current time is a big challenge for all of us and until we know how can to prevent this we all remain unsafe.
The question arises here, is if the user data requests by authorities worry us. Despite different country officials keeping a close eye on different online platforms, motives may vary. Government law enforcement agencies request different social media platforms for relevant data. This data can be about online crimes, terrorist or, to determine online track report for proof or, other reasons. Most of these data requests demand the last login location, coordinates and, personal information. This is beside the fact that these social media platform also have their own struggles to tackle abuse and hatred on their platforms.
As the worldwide user data request to different social media application are on an increase, the last two years have seen different social media portals publically releasing government data request reports. It may not be a surprise to many that the most data request in 2015 was submitted by United State law enforcement agencies, consequently, affecting 56,620 user accounts. In the recent international magazine Mike Janke, co-founder and chairman of Silent Circle ( Geneva), says that “Our digital life has so many footprints, we now see government asking companies like Netflix, Hulu, HBO and cable providers for information,”
The graph shows that from 2013 to 2016, the top five countries to make data requests to Facebook were US 102971, India 33875, UK 21400, and Germany 17421and France 16545. And those requests affected 291006 user account data by these top five countries which is the big threat to Facebook user’s privacy from law enforcement agencies. While overall data requests by all countries are 271904, which impacted on 388133 user accounts data during 2013 to 2016. During the same period Pakistan was listed as 18th with 1759 data requests to Facebook, affecting 2532 user accounts data. It is significant to know that out of 200 million population of Pakistan around 27 million currently use Facebook.
Ayzaz Syed, Senior Journalist comments, “As the internet and social media is a public space, which is the only place, being journalists, where we can speak openly, however, being followed by different sources make us uncomfortable in that space.”
A very great initiative taken by Facebook to prevent such third party applications, including different law enforcement agencies accessing their user data for surveillance purpose, is to publically publish transparent reports. Further Facebook, now, binds any of the these application developers, including law enforcement agencies, which may want to use Facebook developers APIs, to share the purpose of their access to the user data may be after which approval can be granted accordingly.
Further investigation on Twitter transparency data reports disclosed that US government law enforcement agencies requested the most data from twitter during years 2012 to 2016. The total data request during this period made by all countries was 18536, specifying 41496 user accounts data. While Pakistan have been made only 5 data request to twitter in which the total specified user account was 7. Further 16299 data request have been placed by top five countries under which 32165 user accounts were specified during 2012 to 2016 as shown in the graph.
US not only requests to Facebook and Twitter but also to the other social media portals too like Google, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Tumblr, Apple and many others. Even this is a big threat to the Internet connected users that different law enforcements agencies and many others organizations are illegally accessing online user information from different portals through their own applications.
This leaves the global citizen with no choice but to restrict our activities and personal information and configure such privacy settings on Internet connected devices. If we aren’t vigilant we face victimization at the hands of, the so-called, surveillance activities directly or indirectly. The recent revelations by ‘Shadow Brokers’ about NSA hacking tools informed that the batch documents were stolen from US intelligence agencies to access the hacking tools. This is clear that all the devices and tools we are using under big threat by those agencies, which violate privacy and should be made accountable.
Mansoor Zeb Khan, Technology Researcher, based in Islamabad says, “This is not new thing to us as these (user accounts) were already bugged and kept under a close eye and; an advice for the folks of social media to please make your activities limited and professional.”