Wednesday, 1 February 2012

US security are reading your tweets? and what else?

Two British tourists were refused entry to the US after one of them posted on twitter saying he was going to “destroy America.”

Leigh Van Bryan insisted he was just using the words to show that he was going to have a good time, but he was still sent home.

For me this isn’t about the foolishness of posting something on twitter which could have been misconstrued, no matter how innocently it had been posted. After all we’ve all read the stories of tweets that have been taken out of context and the fallout this can cause.

But for me this is about a bigger picture. It’s about the reality that if you tweet something, the higher authorities not just in the UK, but in the US and who knows where else, potentially have instant access to what you’ve tweeted, and can hold you accountable. And it’s not just that, it’s the fact that they know who you are in order to do so.

Now, I am entirely aware that if someone tweets something that could be construed as a threat to national security, this could be flagged and they could be traced back through their IP address and then back to the device used to write the tweet, which would likely be a home computer or a mobile phone registered to the person sending the tweet.

But it is chilling to think that if you book a holiday to the US, your twitter account is potentially automatically looked at, in which case, how do they know who you are? When I travel to the US I don’t give out my twitter information, nor my email address if I remember rightly – it’s not something that is requested.

And if I have more than one account, do they know? And what lengths do they go to in order to find out? I do in fact have more than one twitter account. One is linked to my real name, linked to my main email address and my mobile phone and in truth wouldn’t be that hard to back-trace to me, but that’s assuming I’ve given them some of the information that links to that account. But my other twitter account (which is fairly dormant anyway) has no bearing on my name, email address or mobile phone. But does that matter?

I’ve always been a bit blasé about the whole notion of so-called government surveillance – the idea being that if you have nothing to hide then it’s not really an issue. But I find the idea that not only our government but potentially other governments have the ability to know who I am and what I’m doing and saying and to decide I am a threat off the back of one tweet, and that they not only have the ability to do this but are, it would seem, actively doing so deeply disconcerting.

And if we are being watched through twitter and such like, what else do they have access to? My twitter account is public, most are, so in truth anyone on the internet has access to it, so it is not an invasion of one’s privacy if those tweets fall into the hands of the authorities. But my email isn’t public, my phone calls aren’t, and if I remember rightly, a bill to allow emails and phone calls to be hacked was rejected not so long ago. But does it matter? Maybe they can’t be intercepted from here, but could they elsewhere?

I think this story shows one thing for certain – big brother appears to be watching...

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