Twitter fired a shot across the bow of the government of United Kingdom this week regarding the latter’s plan to record usage of internet and mobile phones of Britons. Twitter warned that the British government may be sued by users outside the country.
The surveillance effort, according to the social networking site, may filter and store online activity of non-UK users, making Internet Service Providers and communication firms vulnerable to legal action from other countries.
Twitter submitted a written communication to the joint Commons and Lords committee sometime this week over the so-called “snoopers’ charter”. The draft bill is not supported by internet providers across the country. They have also cautioned the UK government about the bill’s potential infringement of web user’s right to privacy, which is considered abuse of the power of the state.
“We would be interested to understand what consideration was given to issues of proportionality in the drafting of this provision as well as some cross-jurisdictional challenges which may arise,” Twitter said.
“For example, it is possible and indeed highly likely that this type of monitoring would result in the collection and retention of data on users who are outside of United Kingdom.
Twitter warned the government that the bill can put it in a disadvantage if users will take their privacy rights to court. The company also asked for clarification how the UK government will handle foreign legislation, including privacy laws and data protection in other countries like members of the European Union and the US.
The lack of transparency in the monitoring proposals was raised as a concern by Twitter. The San Francisco-based company said that there’s seems to be a missing process of alerting users of the site or the public when authorities would want to monitor their data.
While the written letter was bland in terms of word usage compare to the ones used by UK’s internet companies, Twitter did emphasize that the surveillance effort can greatly affect UK’s standing in other countries.
Twitter said: “While it is one thing for a government which has incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into domestic law to seek to assert authority over overseas companies, it would be of quite a different order for the government of a less democratic country to seek to exercise similar powers.
“In such a case, however, there is a risk that the standing of the UK government and UK companies in resisting such data collection from its own companies could be significantly diluted. Indeed, many dissidents abroad, such as Michael Anti in China, count upon Western democracies to lead by example and to pressure their own governments to uphold essential internet freedoms.”
The bill proposes that internet companies will store all their members usage data for a year. Such data include time and date of messages although content can be deleted.
The authorities defended their position by claiming that communication data can be used is almost all counter-terrorism efforts and in about 95% of modern crime investigations.
“It is the who, where and when of communication, not the content. The communications data bill will not give any new powers to the police, this will not introduce large-scale live monitoring of all emails sent and received. Instead, it will simply ensure current powers are adapted for modern-day communication maintaining strong safeguards,” said James Brokenshire, the security minister.
Twitter claims to have over 10 million users in the UK alone. The social networking site has exploded in popularity as celebrities, sports stars, and movie and TV personalities have started using its services a few years back.