In the governments latest attempt to grab data and increase survelliance, they are now looking to obtain the network connections/relations between people on social networking sites, in an attempt to “reduce the threat of terrorism”.
This latest data grab is as disingenuous as it is worrying.
Six Degrees of Separation
Firstly, the issue with social networking is that everybody is connected to pretty much everybody else. So as innocent as a person may be they will almost always be linked to a guilty person on their social neworking site. The age old wives tale of every is linked by 6 connections is not just a tale, but is true, and has shown to be true on several seperate studies, including one by Microsoft involving 30 billion MSN messages.
A more personal demonstration of this is for the users of LinkedIn, it tells you how many people are in your nearest network, i.e. connected directly to you, and how many are 2, 3, and 4 connections away. This author has around 200 direct LinkedIn connections, but can connect to around 8 million people – thought the network. Given the statistics of criminality it almost impossible that one of those 8 million has not been convicted of a crime, and a serious one. Therefore the author is almost certain to be linked to a criminal. Because of the huge amount of “noise” in this sort of statistical analysis, it will be hard to determine who is really connected to a criminal network and who genuinely innocent.
Even working with just the direct connections would be a fruitless task as some people attempt to get as many connections/friends/links as possible, and therefore are almost certain to be linked/connected to a criminal. Governments don’t seem afraid to pick up the wrong person, and this sort of intelligence gathering would only increase the probability of this.
Poking Al Qaeda
Secondly, the idea that our former allies the Mujahadeen, now our sworn enemy the Taliban, are creating groups on FaceBook and poking each other with virtual stinger missiles is laughable. So much so the government didn’t even dare publicly ask for the data relating the content of the conversations, only the connections.
Thirdly, the government justifies this requirement to monitor innocent and terrorist a like, because social networking is a form of communication that the terrorist can use. This is perhaps the most sinister part of the entire collection issue.
People communicate and meet all of the time, email, telephone, MSN, in the pub, restaurants, in sports teams, etc. The government believes that it should be able know who everybody meets all of the time.
They already have access to telephone logs, email, and web access, and are now pushing for internal databases from the social networking sites.
The connections the government are after is the equivalent of asking every person to sign a register of who they are with when they enter a pub. Then sending the register off to the government for permanent logging and analysis – this cannot be a good thing.
Online social network is not being conducted as well as meeting people, its being done instead of this. There is a limited amount of time in the day, and people are not creating more free time, in fact in the contray people are working more and more hours. Therefore online and real world social networking cannot be done at the same time; as popular as MySpace is, its not a time machine.
So why does the goverment want to monitor who everybody is connected with? With ANPR, CCTV facial and behviour recognition, DNA databases, electronic number plates and internet monitoring already in place what part of life will remain unmonitored?