Donal Blaney explains the latest proposals from an influential think-tank that will affect users of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook and Twitter, together with other social media sites, are ubiquitous. Their influence on the way we live our lives continues to grow. Twitter was credited with playing a central role in the Arab Spring, the series of revolutions that swept the Middle East in 2011. Facebook is set for the largest IPO since the dot com bubble burst a decade ago.

Demos, the centre-left think-tank that continues to influence the Conservative-led coalition government, has published a report calling for users’ private information on social media sites to be more readily spied on by the police and intelligence services.

That means that anything you say to anyone online will be able to be read and used against you. The internet – once a force for freedom – risks becoming a tool for governmental oppression. The government does not spy on gatherings of individuals: so why should it spy on those gatherings if they are online?

Written by David Omand, a former head of the government’s spy centre, GCHQ, the report attempts to nuance the need for a balance between security and liberty. It is well-meant and cogently argued.

The worry naturally is that once the law is changed to allow for snooping by the police and intelligence services – maybe initially pursuant to a warrant granted by a judge – others organs of the state (local council bureaucrats, HM Revenue & Customs, teachers and doctors) will seek to do likewise. And all will claim to be doing so, as ever, “in the public interest”.

There will inevitably be circumstances where, in extremis, it may be appropriate for a judge to permit the authorities to gain access to individuals’ emails, web browsing history and social media accounts. The law already permits judges to grant the authorities access today.

But the kind of widespread access proposed by those who are willing to trade liberty for security is an infringement on individuals’ freedom and must be opposed.

If you need advice on how to protect your personal data and privacy, please contact Donal Blaney at Griffin Law by email at donal@griffinlaw.co.uk