The British Government thinks some of your Facebook friends and friends of friends may actually be terrorists, so it wants to monitor the nation's 27 million Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo users to prevent further attacks like the London tube and bus bombings of July 7, 2005, and Guy Fawkes' attack on Parliament, in 1605.
Britons are used to being watched. After decades of IRA violence, her Majesty's crime fighters set up thousands of closed-circuit TV cameras to monitor the behavior of ordinary British citizens as they go about their daily chores. After 07/07, the government also began to compile a massive DNA database of UK residents, and it supports a European Union plan to record all email and internet activity in the 27 member states.
Big Brother already watches Londoners as they go about their daily tasks, so why not also watch their Facebooking?
But Prime Minister Gordon Brown's new proposal to have the government friend your friends outdoes the slavish imitation of the Bush-Cheney war on civil liberties of his predecessor, Tony Blair. Facebook has already been accused in Parliament of causing autism, hyperactivity, cancer, and even death. Now Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker wants to revise the government's "intercept modernisation programme" – that's newspeak for more spying – to force social networking sites to turn over information on their users' friends networks. Opposition Liberal Democrats are charging that the government's revision of the Post Office "I Spy" Bill is one more terrifying, costly, and extremely leaky example of the big brotherism that has become rampant in this country since the July 7 bombings.
A sign at a bus stop across from Parliament, along with new government proposals to restrict civil liberties – two indicators that even in the age of Obama, the Bush Doctrine still rules on this side of the pond
Defending the government's latest invasion of British privacy, the Home Office said, "The communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change so law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle terrorism." But as opposition MPs pointed out in the House of Commons, the government has already spent massive amounts of money on communication intercepts with little or no results, and lax government computer security has already resulted in the loss of hundreds of Whitehall laptops, disks, and flash drives, containing vital personal data on millions of Britons.
Demonstrating outside 10 Downing Street, Liberal Democrat MPs are monitoring the whereabouts of Prime Minister Gordon Brown just as he seeks to monitor everyone else's behavior
True, putting a Big Brother icon on everybody's laptop will cost taxpayers more money and expose even more private data to theft. Fortunately, all this can be avoided. What both the government and the opposition have failed to realize is that, if half the British population is on Facebook, then it would be both simpler and more cost effective to discontinue internet surveillance, label anyone with a logon all as a potential bomber, and go have a nice cup of tea.
The long tradition of social welfare that often seems to accompany such a massive invasion of privacy might then prompt the government to compensate those who are inconvenienced by the new policy, perhaps by opening up special "terrorists only" lanes for Facebookers on the motorways or designating certain seats on the underground and the buses for "friends and friends of friends of bombers" during peak travel times.
For off-peak travel, public service announcements could warn, "There's a fifty percent chance that if you friend the person texting next to you, you'll be friending a terrorist or the friend of a terrorist," just as they now announce service disruptions on the Piccadilly Line or warn passengers to report any unattended packages to the authorities.
All this suspicion is unlikely to turn up any new gunpowder plots. But since we already assume that anyone attempting to board a plane while wearing shoes is a terrorist, why not go that extra step and also assume that all our Facebook friends are busy trying to figure out how to send a digital bomb to blow us up?
Off with their heads! Under a new government scheme, half the British population, all Facebook users, their friends, and their friends of friends, will be escorted to the Tower of London, where they will assist London's Metropolitan Police in their inquiries