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UK Gov’t targets social networking sites in latest privacy row

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and Myspace could be monitored by the UK Government under proposed amendments to anti-terrorism laws.

Information stored on Facebook user profiles, most notably their contacts or “friends”, would be harvested by the government and held on a central database if the scheme gets the go-ahead. The data, the Home Office claim, is needed to tackle crime gangs and terrorists who might use the sites, but they insisted it would not keep the content of conversations.

The proposals form part of a wider government plan to store details of all phone calls, e-mails and websites visited on a central database, something which the Home Office claim is necessary to allow police and security services “keep up with technological advances”.

A spokesman said: “The government has no interest in the content of people’s social network sites and this is not going to be part of our upcoming consultation.

“We have been clear that the communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change, so that law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle terrorism and gather evidence.”

Telephone companies are already required to store details of all calls, such as the time and date, location and who made them, for a period of 12 months so that they may be used in criminal investigations or court cases.

At present, there is no regulation to prevent security forces from browsing internet profiles but it is the Home Offices’ intention to store such information on a central database that has raised concerns.

Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, described the policy as “overkill” and is reportedly considering lobbying ministers over the proposal. He also added that the company was willing to communicate with security authorities over any suspicious activity occurring on Facebook.

Around 17 million Brits are thought to use Facebook at present, making it the UK’s most popular social networking platform. Bebo, which is aimed mainly at teenagers and young adults, has more than 10 million users whilst Myspace boasts a similar number of members.

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