Facebook: spying will “discourage” users from web services

Dragnet surveillance may discourage users from using web services such as email or social media, Facebook has claimed, responding to revelations of widespread government spying.

Facebook: spying will

Richard Allan, the firm’s EMEA policy chief, said it was not up to companies to determine whether users’ communications remain private, saying that was the government’s job.

“It’s largely a matter for governments, within the framework of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to make decisions about the extent to which they will take the right to interfere with private correspondence,” he said, speaking at a Westminster eForum event. “Companies and entities have to respond to the legal framework the government has created.”

Wholesale access to people’s communications by their governments is something that people would be extremely uncomfortable with

He added that widespread surveillance would put users off cloud services. “It is important to us because, clearly, wholesale access to people’s communications by their governments is something that, were it to happen, people would be extremely uncomfortable with and would want to see corrected,” he said. “It would create a discouragement for using online services.”

The EU has already warned Europeans about using US cloud services, saying that the US government couldn’t provide sufficient data protection reassurances.

Snooping accusations

Allan’s comments follow reports of online data-gathering operations by international spy agencies, including the US National Security Agency (NSA) and GCHQ. Facebook, along with other major tech firms, has been accused of giving the NSA “direct access” to servers, in order to access data including photos, messages and connection logs.

All the firms, including Facebook, have denied the accusations.

Allan was careful not to imply any Facebook involvement with the snooping programs, but welcomed the public debate on improving user privacy.

“Some governments are more sophisticated, some say we can do whatever the hell we like, others say you could do certain things within very narrow constraints,” he said.

“The UK is probably in the middle of the pack – it’s certainly not the most constrained but it does have a quite robust legal framework for these. The UK makes 200,000 data requests a year from telecommunications providers, so it’s clearly not holding itself back, but it does have a clear regulatory framework.”

Facebook previously said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests for user data in the second half of 2012, covering 18,000 to 19,000 of its users’ accounts.

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