Blind Man with a Pistol

Cyberspace Cops

Back in March, I referred to case of alleged academic dishonesty between Chris Avenir, facebook, and Ryerson Univeristy as a question of policing, surveillance and coercion. Ryerson University, I argued, was attempting to colonize cyberspace in their interests, while the students’ conception of what one should expect online was very different. Well, now it seems, this case has surfaced outside of academia. And the stakes seem a bit higher:

Via Google News I hear of a new Facebook Application: GMP Updates. The application, also known as “The Greater Manchester Police Updates,” gives you a feed of crime updates and links to a form for reporting crimes, according to the article. It’s the first time I’ve seen a law enforcement based Facebook application…

Law enforcement use of applications will significantly expand the reach of what law enforcement can see, and also provide a more surreptitious viewing ability. It’s been noted that some 90% of popular applications have access to more information than they need, but this seems like a significant first — giving law enforcement more access than it needs. Why the expansion? Because application providers get access to just about all of your Facebook information, as described in the “Platform Application Terms of Use“…

That’s not all that is happening. When you add an application, by default it can see what you can see on Facebook. So you’re also sharing your friends’ information with law enforcement. Your friends may opt-out of this sharing, but until they do you’ll be the eyes and ears of law enforcement by adding a law enforcement-based Facebook app.

This maneuver by the Manchester Police, while framed as a great way to “crack crime,” should render blatantly obvious that the Internet is not public space. It is land up for grabs, and the Manchester Police are making their play for it. The kind of logic that absolves Ryerson and the GMP of their aggressive power play is the same kind that George W. Bush and his cronies enact to justify their wire-tap scheme, roundly condemned as an assault on civil liberties. Why, when it comes to cyberspace, should we think any differently?

Hat-tip to April Reign.

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