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    Social Media Law Expert: Judge Must Decide if Gov't Can Hack Suspects' Facebook

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    The US government is seeking Facebook’s help to wiretap the giant’s Messenger app, Reuters revealed. The news agency learned that Facebook was asked to assist in a criminal investigation; if Facebook agrees, it would involve breaking the encryption of the popular app. Sputnik discussed the issue with Laura Bliss, an expert on social media law.

    Sputnik: How surprising was this news, did it make a big splash?

    Laura Bliss: I don't think it's as surprising as people would like to make out, I think with the way social media is now, it's changed the way crime is committed, and I feel that actually, law enforcement are now looking into what more they can do to combat organized crime in particular, and one way that's going to be is through the help of social networks to see what people are saying online essentially.

    Sputnik: The US government is looking to wiretap a conversation of one suspect, but if they were allowed to do this where are the guarantees that the government wouldn't be spying on other citizens? There be a lot of legal work involved, wouldn't there?

    Laura Bliss: Yes, there would be a lot of legal work, I would like to think that there would be guarantees by the judiciary to ensure that it's only in certain circumstances, so to me it should be the application is made to the judiciary and it's their decision, they've got an impartial person there deciding whether, actually, law enforcement can hack into someone's social media profile to gain information.

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    I think if you gave universal right to law enforcement to be able to do that without prior permission, you are effectively allowing an abuse of power to occur at some stage, so it's a case of ensuring that there are safeguards in place essentially.

    Sputnik: And yet do you think that there might be still loopholes, backdoors, something like that?

    Laura Bliss: I think all legislation, however it's an enacted or comments that are made by the judiciary, etc., there is always loopholes, so it is essentially ensuring, when the judgment is being given in this case, that the judges make sure that the safeguards are in place, ensuring that these loopholes are limited as much as possible.

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    Obviously, you've got freedom of expression, you've got the right to privacy and all this needs to be maintained, but they're not absolute rights, they can be restricted, and obviously that restriction needs to be ensured that it complies with the law.

    Sputnik: Of course there's been a similar case with Apple and the CIA and the government could not compel the tech giant to comply with their demand — could Facebook be compelled though? Is there anything that the government can do to this end?

    Laura Bliss: I personally don't think at the moment that they would be compelled to do it, I think there would need to be changed further up in the legal system in America to allow for that to happen. I know in the UK that they tried to bring in an act that would essentially allow law enforcement here to do very similar things, but that was actually shut down by the European Court of Justice, for the fact that there were no safeguards in place for peoples privacy.

    I think at the moment, because of the way crime has changed and it is more on social media now, and organized criminals can contact each other very quickly through those means, it's a case of ensuring that legislation keeps up with the changes in communication.

    Sputnik: Facebook, of course, could meet the government's demand and rewrite its code and that will affect all the users, what implications could it have for company's credibility, which has taken more than a few knocks? And how willing would Facebook actually be to take the step?

    Laura Bliss: I think, obviously, with everything that's happened with Facebook recently, it is a case that they would probably try to do what they feel would give them the best publicity.

    Obviously, there are going to be people that are very much, ‘What you say should be hidden from the government and stop law enforcement from getting involved' — but I do think that… as long as there are protections in place… maybe law enforcement should be allowed to see was going on online, as long as it's proportionate to what they're trying to achieve essentially.

    Sputnik: If we look at the timeline how long could it all take, the procedure of getting Facebook on board to agree with this, getting the legal aspect of it together, would it be a while?

    Laura Bliss: Yes, I don't think it'll be something that would happen overnight, obviously, with the UK when they brought in the Snoopers' Charter, when they tried to bring that in, it was rushed through Parliament quite quickly and you could see the loopholes in there and the fact that there were no safeguards there which led to it being shut down by the European Court of Justice.

    So it would be a case of law enforcement having a look at the situation, ensuring that the protection of peoples' right to privacy is there, and then, obviously, the case of Facebook changing his algorithms, changing how it does things, so you're looking at probably a good couple of years before they're able to do that.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    data, crime, hacking, Facebook, United States
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