The Independent View: A blueprint for social media intelligence

The controversy over the Government’s plans to legislate for Internet surveillance, the ‘Communications Capabilities Development Programme’, has exposed a deep division within the Coalition. Into the dispute that has simmered since some details were first leaked earlier this month, David Cameron himself has weighed in to say that the proposals are necessary to stop crime, whereas Tim Farron has threatened to kill it “if we think this is a threat to a free and liberal society”.

This rumbling outrage surrounding CCDP testifies to the importance of a principled, publicly argued grounding for any kind of intelligence. It is exactly this that the generation and use of a new and increasingly important kind of intelligence – social media intelligence, or ‘SOCMINT’, currently lacks. The legislation that governs intrusive intercepts – the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or RIPA – was drafted before social media existed and this new platform does not fit easily into either RIPA’s understanding of privacy and intrusion, or its distinctions between different kinds of communication.

Demos has launched #Intelligence. Co-written by the former Director of GCHQ and Intelligence and Security Coordinator Sir David Omand, myself, and Demos’ Jamie Bartlett, it aims to fill this deficit. It is possible for SOCMINT to can decisively contribute to public safety and security in a way that is consistent with our essential liberties.

In order to do this, #Intelligence suggests an explicitly articulated framework that recognises privacy and security as sometimes competing, but equally legitimate, public goods. We suggest this be based on a ‘two-route approach’. If the SOCMINT collection is consensual, or if the information is accessible to anyone, anonymous, and conducted without the suspicion of wrongdoing – then Government should be able to collect SOCMINT like companies or universities. This is ‘open SOCMINT’, and, much like the commercial exploitation of social media analysis, must be subject to data protection requirements and a reasonable transparency. When the Government collects SOCMINT using powers only available to Government, namely the breach of identified individual’s privacy settings during the course of an investigation in the interests of public safety, another framework is needed. One that recognizes the specific potential for abuse that only a sovereign Government poses. Such a framework must be animated by six principles:

1: there must be sufficient, sustainable cause;

2: there must be integrity of motive;

3: the methods used must be proportionate and necessary;

4: there must be right authority, validated by external oversight;

5: recourse to secret intelligence must be a last resort if more open sources can be used;

6: there must be reasonable prospect of success.

There are a number of practical steps to take. In the immediate term, Government must see how current legislation and existing systems of oversight applies to SOCMINT in an interdepartmental review. In the longer term, we must expect Government to publish how it plans to use and manage SOCMINT in the public interest in a Green Paper. However Government approaches this issue, and it must, let us hope that it is publicly argued, strategic one in which fundamental liberties and the imperative of security both have a prominent role.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Carl is the Research Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.

One Comment

  • Daniel Henry 25th Apr '12 - 11:53am

    On the mobile version of this page, the writing is in a black font camouflaging itself against the black background like invisible ink, as if it’s trying to hide this top secret information from these authoritarian snoopers! 🙂

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