Humberside Police have raised fresh privacy concerns by allocating police funds to searching through social media sites such as Facebook. More than 60 people have been investigated in the Humberside area, raising fears that these methods will be rolled out around the country using the success of a handful of cases as justification for spying on innocent people.
Chief Superintendent Richard Kerman, the force’s most senior detective, said:
“When I started policing in 1982, there was only land lines available so policing of this nature didn’t exist. But everyone nowadays has the guile to use social networking. Sadly, some use it for criminal purposes.”
Mr Kerman misses the point entirely. For exactly the same reason that the police are not allowed to hack in to the phone calls of everyone in the country, they should not be allowed to view private profiles on Facebook. The huge rise in social networking has had a multitude of advantages, but now it seems the state wants to control it. On the one hand there is the scandalous attempt to shut down Twitter, a bastion of up-to-the-minute news, during times of social unrest despite the obvious advantages to concerned citizens. But simultaneously the police want to spy on innocent people using the very same websites.
This is a worrying development. Once again police resources are being spent on the surveillance of ordinary innocent people rather than keeping a police presence on the street. If it is acceptable to spy on civilians on Facebook, is it OK for the police to read private emails or record phone conversations? Once again, the capture of a few criminals is used as the justification for increasingly intrusive measures by the state.