Daily Archives: April 24, 2012

Scientists call for research into mobile phone brain cancers

CANCER IN CHILDREN ON THE RISE: The Children with Cancer conference will highlight figures just published by the Office of National Statistics, which show a 50 per cent increase in frontal and temporal lobe tumours between 1999 and 2009.

  • Scientists at London conference call for independent research into potential links between using a mobile phone and brain cancer
  • Figures from ONS show 50 per cent increase in brain tumours since 1999
  • Studies ‘are split 50/50’ in conclusions, leaving the issue open for debate
  • But believers fear fall-out from the ‘biggest technological experiment in the history of our species’

Daily Mail | Apr 24, 2012

By Eddie Wrenn

A scientific conference starting in London today will urge governments across the world to support independent research into the possibility that using mobile phones encourages the growth of head cancers.

The Children with Cancer conference will highlight figures just published by the Office of National Statistics, which show a 50 per cent increase in frontal and temporal lobe tumours between 1999 and 2009.

The ONS figures show that the incident rate has risen from two to three per 100,000 people since 1999, while figures from Bordeaux Segalen University show a one to two per cent annual increase in brain cancers in children.

Scientists and academics have long argued over the suggestion that radiation from mobile phones causes cancers. Those who believe there is a link say that – with five billion mobile phones being used worldwide – urgent research must be carried out to establish the risk.

But not everyone agrees. While governments, phone companies, and health agencies give precautionary advice about minimising mobile phone use, the Health Protection Agency is likely to conclude in a report due on Thursday that the only established risk when using a mobile is crashing a car due to being distracted by a call or text.

Professor Denis Henshaw, emeritus professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, is opening the three-day conference in Westminster today.

He has previously advocated cigarette-style warnings on mobile phone packets and urges more independent research.

Professor Henshaw said: ‘Vast numbers of people are using mobile phones and they could be a time bomb of health problems – not just brain tumours, but also fertility, which would be a serious public health issue.

‘The health effects of smoking alcohol and air pollution are well known and well talked about, and it’s entirely reasonable we should be openly discussing the evidence for this, but it is not happening.

‘We want to close the door before the horse has bolted.’

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) rang alarm bells last year when it classified mobile phones as ‘possibly carginogenic’.

Professor Darius Leszczynski, of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland, said: ‘For the first time a very prominent evaluation report states it so openly and clearly: RF-EMF [radio frequency electromagnetic field] is possibly carcinogenic to humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) rang alarm bells last year when it classified mobile phones as ‘possibly carginogenic’.

Professor Darius Leszczynski, of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland, said: ‘For the first time a very prominent evaluation report states it so openly and clearly: RF-EMF [radio frequency electromagnetic field] is possibly carcinogenic to humans.


Speaker Dr Annie Sasco, from the Epidemiology for Cancer Prevention unit at Bordeaux Segalen University, will highlight the one to two per cent annual increase in brain cancers in children.

She has concerns over the effect of radiation on children’s brains.

She said: ‘If the penetration of the electromagnetic waves goes for four centimetres into the brain, four centimetres into the adult brain is just the temporal lobe.

‘There are not too many important functions in the temporal lobe – but in a child the more central brain structures are going to be exposed.

‘In addition kids have a skull which is thinner, less protective, they have a higher content of water in the brain, so there are many reasons that they absorb more of the same radiation.’

Speaking to the Independent about the rise in brain cancer in children, she said: ‘It’s not age, it’s too fast to be genetic, and it isn’t all down to lifestyle, so what in the environment can it be?

”We now live in an electro-smog and people are exposed to wireless devices that we have shown in the lab to have a biological impact.

‘It is totally unethical that experimental studies are not being done very fast, in big numbers, by independently funded scientists.

‘The industry is just doing their job, I am more preoccupied with the so called independent scientists and institutions saying there is no problem.’

‘One has to remember that IARC monographs are considered as “gold standard” in evaluation of carcinogenicity of physical and chemical agents.

‘If IARC says it so clearly then there must be sufficient scientific reason for it, or IARC would not put its reputation behind such claim.’

Egyptian comedian going to jail for ‘offending Islam’

Imam was sentenced to three months in jail and fined around $170 for insulting Islam in roles he played in movies such as “The Terrorist”, in which he acted the role of a wanted terrorist who found refuge with a middle class, moderate family, and the film “Terrorism and Kabab. ”

A Cairo court upholds a three-month jail sentence and a fine against veteran comedian Adel Imam for defaming Islam in several roles he played on stage and screen.

AP | Apr 25, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Tuesday upheld a conviction against one of the Arab world’s most famous comedians, sentencing him to jail for offending Islam in some of his most popular films.

The case against Adel Imam and others like it have raised concerns among some Egyptians that ultraconservative Muslims who made gains in recent elections after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year are trying to foist their religious views on the entire country. Critics say the trend threatens to curb Egypt’s vibrant film industry and freedom of speech.

Imam was sentenced to three months in jail and fined around $170 for insulting Islam in roles he played in movies such as “The Terrorist”, in which he acted the role of a wanted terrorist who found refuge with a middle class, moderate family, and the film “Terrorism and Kabab. ”

The actor was also found guilty for his 2007 role in “Morgan Ahmed Morgan,” in which Imam played a corrupt businessman who tries to buy a university diploma. The film included a scene parodying bearded Muslim men wearing traditional Islamic clothing.

Author Alaa al-Aswany, whose best-seller “The Yacoubian Building” was turned into a film costarring Imam, said the court ruling sets Egypt back to the “darkness of the Middle Ages.”

“This is an unimaginable crime of principle in developed nations,” he said in remarks posted on his Twitter account Tuesday.

The case is one of many brought by conservative lawyers in recent months seeking to punish individuals they deem as having offended Islam. Earlier this year, two courts rejected blasphemy cases against Christian media mogul, Naguib Sawiris, after he relayed a cartoon online of Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie in a face veil.

The cases highlight the newfound sense of empowerment among followers of the ultraconservative Salafi trend of Islam in Egypt after Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising. Their newly formed Al-Nour party won 25 percent of seats in parliament, emerging as the second most powerful group in Egypt after the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.

The mere filing of such blasphemy cases by Salafi lawyers has raised concern among rights groups and liberals about attempts to curb freedom of speech.

Egyptian entertainment reporter Tarek el-Shinnawi said the case against Imam is a setback for Cairo’s famed film industry, which has produced the region’s most popular films.

“It will make any writer, director or actor think before considering the role of a Muslim figure,” el-Shinnawi said.

Imam was initially found guilty in February in a case brought by an ultraconservative Islamist lawyer. He was given a retrial since he was first tried in absentia. He did not appear in court Tuesday but his lawyers did. Imam has the right to appeal.

Under Mubarak, government censors controlled what could be shown in theaters or filmed by major studios. The films Imam starred in were approved by the censors.

El-Shinnawi argued that a legally sound case would involve the writers and directors, and the censors who approved the movies, not just the star of the films.

Imam, 71, has acted in dozens of films in a career that spans nearly 50 years.

Long a beloved figured in Egypt, Imam lost popularity among Egyptian protesters for supporting Mubarak during last year’s 18-day revolt.

In one of his most popular roles, Imam played an Arab dictator in a 1998 satirical play called el-Zaeem. The play has since been aired on satellite television across the Arab world, bypassing state censors and gaining popularity through its comedic take of a tyrannical figure.

Swiss scientists demonstrate mind-controlled robot from 100 kilomters away

A spectator moves out of the way as Mark-Andre Duc, seen on the computer screen, directs a robot at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, Tuesday, April 24, 2012. From the hospital 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, Duc imagined lifting his fingers to direct a robot. Swiss scientists demonstrated with this test how a partially paralyzed person can control a robot using brain signals alone. Anja Niedringhaus

Associated Press | Apr 25, 2012


LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Swiss scientists have demonstrated how a partially paralyzed person can control a robot by thought alone, a step they hope will one day allow immobile people to interact with their surroundings through so-called avatars.

Similar experiments have taken place in the United States and Germany, but they involved either able-bodied patients or invasive brain implants.

On Tuesday, a team at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used only a simple head cap to record the brain signals of Mark-Andre Duc, who was at a hospital in the southern Swiss town of Sion 100 kilometers (62 miles) away.

Duc’s thoughts – or rather, the electrical signals emitted by his brain when he imagined lifting his paralyzed fingers – were decoded almost instantly by a laptop at the hospital. The resulting instructions – left or right – were then transmitted to a foot-tall robot scooting around the Lausanne lab.

Duc lost control of his legs and fingers in a fall and is now considered partially quadriplegic. He said controlling the robot wasn’t hard on a good day.

“But when I’m in pain it becomes more difficult,” he told The Associated Press through a video link screen on a second laptop attached to the robot.

Background noise caused by pain or even a wandering mind has emerged as a major challenge in the research of so-called brain-computer interfaces since they first began to be tested on humans more than a decade ago, said Jose Millan, who led the Swiss team.

While the human brain is perfectly capable of performing several tasks at once, a paralyzed person would have to focus the entire time they are directing the device.

“Sooner or later your attention will drop and this will degrade the signal,” Millan said.

To get around this problem, his team decided to program the computer that decodes the signal so that it works in a similar way to the brain’s subconscious. Once a command such as ‘walk forward’ has been sent, the computer will execute it until it receives a command to stop or the robot encounters an obstacle.

The robot itself is an advance on a previous project that let patients control an electric wheelchair. By using a robot complete with a camera and screen, users can extend their virtual presence to places that are arduous to reach with a wheelchair, such as an art gallery or a wedding abroad.

Rajesh Rao, an associate professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has tested similar systems with able-bodied subjects, said the Lausanne team’s research appeared to mark an advance in the field.

“Especially if the system can be used by the paraplegic person outside the laboratory,” he said in an email.

Millan said that although the device has already been tested at patients’ homes, it isn’t as easy to use as some commercially available gadgets that employ brain signals to control simple toys, such Mattel’s popular MindFlex headset.

“But this will come in a matter of years,” Millan said.

California law would extend cellphone fines to people on bicycles

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner

SF Examiner | Apr 23, 2012

By Will Reisman

Bicyclists may soon have to put down their cellphones before grabbing their handlebars, unless they want to cough up some money.

Under legislation proposed by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, cyclists would be fined $20 for riding their bikes while talking on a mobile device. A second offense for the infraction would net a $30 fine.

Simitian successfully authored the 2008 legislation that banned motorists from driving while using their cellphones. He said he intended to include cyclists in that bill, but a drafting error prevented that from happening.

This latest legislation, which was recently introduced at the state Senate transportation committee, will address that shortcoming.

“This is about equality,” Simitian said. “Serious cyclists understand that they should have the same obligations as other folks who use the roadway.”

Unlike the penalty for motorists, cyclists who get caught using cellphones will be exempt from local fees and fines, which can greatly increase the cost of a ticket. The base fee for motorists using cellphones is just $20, but after all the courthouse and processing fees are in place, the ticket rises to about $159.

Tickets floated for phone-weilding cyclists

Jim Brown, spokesman for the California Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group, said the organization supports Simitian’s legislation.

“There is a ton of research that shows a high level of impairment for motorists when they talk on their cellphones,” Brown said. “We have no reason to believe that it would be any different for cyclists.”

Since there have been scant reports of cyclists injuring people while using their cellphones, the California Bicycle Coalition recommended to Simitian that their fines be cheaper than the ones motorists face. Simitian said he took that into account when exempting bikers from local fees.

Bert Hill, chairman of the San Francisco Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the legislation makes sense.

“Bicyclists have the same rules and responsibilities as drivers,” Hill said. “And, how easy is it for cyclists to just pull over and take a call?”

State Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, who opposed Simitian’s original cellphone ban for motorists, said he would not support the latest bill either.

“This is just another example of regulatory creep,” LaMalfa said. “I mean, how do you cite a bicyclist if he doesn’t have a driver’s license? Officers have enough things to worry about.”

Simitian said the bill is making its way through the state legislature now, and he hopes to present it to Gov. Jerry Brown later this year.

Russia tests its own ‘heat ray’ cannon for for combatting internal “mass disorder”

The US Active Denial System. The appearance of the Russian heat ray cannon is currently being kept under wraps (AFP Photo / Paul J. Richards)

RT | Apr 25, 2012

After a wave of increasingly bombastic rhetoric promising military modernization, Russia has unveiled one concrete project. It is a non-lethal heat ray, similar to the US Active Denial System.

The as-yet-unnamed weapon “will emit a high-frequency electro-magnetic ray. It will cause unbearable pain, but no damage to internal organs,” said Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Soskov, who is involved in developing the device.

The ray uses a similar operating principle to a microwave oven, which itself borrowed its technology from World War II military radars. The focused electro-magnetic radiation can reach a target up to 300 meters away, is not affected by smoke or dust in its way, does not damage clothes, and takes only a few seconds to warm up to uncomfortable levels for human skin, says Soskov.

With the right mirrors to deflect the ray, it could be fired from around corners, and inside buildings. The official said, the device is light enough to be fitted to a van or military jeep.

Affecting only the very top layer of the skin, it only hurts, but does not damage.

Soskov said the weapon can be used for crowd and territory control during peacekeeping, or in counter-insurgency missions. He also said the weapon could be adopted by Russian police for combatting internal “mass disorder.”

The ray is currently undergoing testing at a military research institute outside Moscow.

­Following in the footsteps of failure?

Although Russian military researchers trumpeted the heat ray as a “unique development,” it appears to be very similar to the US Active Denial System.

The US military has spent more than $120 million on the weapon, and says it has been tested on eleven thousand willing volunteers. Only last month, several US officials willingly submitted to the ray during an official unveiling, to stop swirling rumors about the system’s potential danger.

Yet despite being cleared for use in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2010, the Active Denial System does not appear to ever have actually been used.

Critics of the ray say it is a cumbersome device – taking too much time to set up and direct towards its target.

Many have also questioned whether extreme pain is a legitimate means of quelling protest, and wondered what happens when it is directed at a target that cannot move in time, for example a protester in a packed crowd. Supporters of the heat ray say it represents an improvement over the truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets currently used by riot police around the world.

Russia is expected to reveal more new-generation weapons, as Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin presented a military strategy that looks “30-40 years into the future.” The nature of these weapons is unclear, but in his pre-election article President-elect Vladimir Putin said future conflicts “will be won using weapons with new means of delivery, such as ray, geophysical, wave, genetic and psychotronic weapons.

Judge grants lawsuit against unconstitutional NYPD quota policy

NYPD Tapes: Federal Judge Lets Quota Lawsuit Go Forward

villagevoice.com | Apr 24, 2012

By Graham Rayman

We learned last night that a federal judge has granted class certification to a lawsuit which claims the NYPD’s quota policy is unconstitutional and results in summonses and stop and frisks being done without probable cause.

The lawsuit, which could turn into a fairly big problem for Mayor Bloomberg, relies heavily on tape recordings of police supervisors ordering officers to hit specific monthly summons numbers–all of which was first reported in the Village Voice’s award winning “NYPD Tapes” series.

The decision allows the lawsuit, filed by 22 New Yorkers, to move forward, and to in essence speak for all city folks similarly aggrieved.

The underlying claim is that the NYPD’s quota system, which officials deny exists, leads street cops to hand out summonses even when no crime or violation has occurred just to meet productivity demands from their bosses.

Cops who don’t hit their quota are punished, transferred, marooned to the midnight tour, and lose privileges.

Gerald Cohen, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, says the lawsuit seeks an injunction against quotas, more training for police officers, and new monitoring system, along with the usual monetary damages.

“Plaintiffs motion is granted,” wrote U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet. “The class is defined to include individuals who were issued summonses that were later dismissed … and who were ticketed without probable cause.”

Figures supplied to the court by the city indicate that about 6.2 percent of the 3.5 million tickets issued from 2004 to 2009 were dismissed as defective, and 17 percent were dismissed as insufficient.

And there is this curious fact: from 2004 to 2009, 2.2 million summons went through the criminal courts. Some 1.1 million were dismissed.

In other words, more than half the criminal court summonses which received a hearing were dismissed. In other, other words, a lot of criminal court summonses–for open container, pot smoking, blocking the sidewalk, etc.–are not worth the paper they are written on.

In his opinion, Sweet quotes from recordings made by police officers Adil Polanco and Adrian Schoolcraft–both of whom provided their recordings to the Voice.

The quota, according to Polanco’s tapes, was 20 summonses and one arrest a month. “Until you decide to quit this job and become a pizza delivery man, this is you’re going to be doing until then,” a supervisor says.

And in the Schoolcraft tapes, a supervisor says, “He wants at least 3 seat belts, 1 cell phone and 11 others.”

Now, police officials say there are no quotas. But come on, folks. Honestly?

Obama administration announces ‘War on Terror’ is over; so can we fire the TSA and repeal the Patriot Act now?

NaturalNews.com | Apr 24, 2012

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger

(NaturalNews) In an astonishing bit of unexpected news, a senior State Department official has announced, “The war on terror is over.” This stems from the idea, reports the National Journal, that, “it is no longer the case, in other words, that every Islamist is seen as a potential accessory to terrorists.”

That same official continues, “Now that we have killed most of al Qaida, now that people have come to see legitimate means of expression, people who once might have gone into al Qaida see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.”

This is great news, isn’t it? If the “War on Terror” is over, then we can repeal and reverse all the ridiculous police state laws that were put in place to protect us from terrorism… right?

I mean, can we now fire the TSA? They were only put in place after the “terror” attacks on 9/11. If the war on terror is over, the TSA is no longer needed (even if you assume they were effective at all, which they weren’t).

Can we now repeal the Patriot Act which was passed out of an urgency to defend America from terrorists?

Will Obama nullify the NDAA that he recently signed, which uses the excuse of the “war on terror” to legalize secret arrests and the stripping of due process from all Americans?

Can we now deconstruct the DHS and fire Janet Napolitano who has become the (nauseating) face of “fear your neighbor” campaigns?

Read More

Pentagon sets up new spy agency to eavesdrop on the world

Leon Panetta, the defence secretary, is a former director of the CIA. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Defense Clandestine Service will focus on global threats and emerging economic and military powers

guardian.co.uk | Apr 24, 2012

by Julian Borger

The Pentagon is to create a new spy service to focus on global strategic threats and the challenges posed by countries including Iran, North Korea and China. The move will bring to 17 the total number of intelligence organisations in the US.

The Defense Clandestine Service is supposed to work closely with its counterpart in the CIA, the National Clandestine Service, recruiting spies from the ranks of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and deploying them globally to boost the flow of intelligence on perceived long-term threats to US national interests.

US military news website Insidedefense said the defence department had asked Congress for authority for spies to work undercover posing as businessmen when conducting covert operations abroad.

The move by the defence secretary, Leon Panetta, emerged in briefings to US journalists.

“You have to do global coverage,” a senior defence official said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The new service would seek to “make sure officers are in the right locations to pursue those requirements”, the Washington Post quoted the official as saying.

The Pentagon argues that the new service is necessary because the DIA spends most of its time and manpower reporting tactical intelligence about battlefields such as Afghanistan, and not enough time looking at strategic issues.

Obama administration officials have said they want to switch US national security focus away from the Middle East to address long-term issues such as China’s rise and nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran. Pentagon sources suggested the new service would also focus on Africa, where al-Qaida affiliates are on the rise.

The new service will be relatively small, increasing in numbers “from several hundred to several more hundred” over the next few years, according to defence department officials.

The US already has 16 different intelligence organisations scattered around the defence, state, justice, homeland security and energy departments, as well as the armed services.

After the attacks of 11 September 2001 revealed a lack of co-operation and intelligence-sharing among them, the Bush administration restructured the “intelligence community”, putting it all under a director of national intelligence.

Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary for most of the Bush era, attempted to increase the Pentagon’s espionage capability dramatically but the attempt was rebuffed by the CIA, which was at loggerheads with Rumsfeld’s defence department over Iraq.

The Pentagon insisted that this time its new clandestine service would be set up in close collaboration with the CIA, which is led by the former military commander General David Petraeus. The fact that Panetta is a former CIA director is also said to have helped smooth co-operation.

Not all intelligence experts are convinced that the creation of a new organisation will help America’s espionage capacity, however. Some argue that the move reflects turf battles and empire-building.

“I’m not sure what they are supposed to achieve that the CIA doesn’t,” Joshua Foust, a former DIA Middle East analyst told the LA Times. “This seems like a territorial thing: ‘Hey, the CIA has this – why don’t we have it, too?’ … I’m pretty sceptical that it’s necessary or good.”

Weeping four-year-old girl accused of carrying a GUN by TSA officers after she hugged her grandmother while passing through security

Terror threat? Four-year-old Isabella was subjected to a full body pat-down and accused of carrying a gun in an airport

Daily Mail | Apr 24, 2012

By Hugo Gye

Of all the many complaints about airport security and the TSA, one of the most common is that they make little distinction between plausible security threats and passengers unlikely to be doing anything wrong.

And a recent incident in Wichita, Kansas has reinforced that argument, as a four-year-old girl was apparently subjected to a humiliating ordeal after she hugged her grandmother while she was waiting in line.

The girl was accused of having a gun and declared a ‘high security threat’, while agents threatened to shut down the whole airport if she could not be calmed down.

When asked about the overbearing treatment the girl received, a TSA spokesman did not apologise and insisted that correct procedures had been followed.

Four-year-old Isabella’s horrific experience in Wichita earlier this month was recounted on Facebook by her furious mother Michelle Brademeyer.

The family was in Kansas for a wedding, and was travelling home to Montana with Ms Brademeyer’s mother.

Ms Brademeyer and her two children had passed through security when the grandmother was detained after triggering an alarm on the scanners.

Isabella then, according to her mother, ‘excitedly ran over to give her a hug, as children often do. They made very brief contact, no longer than a few seconds.’

The young girl was immediately detained by security agents, who apparently shouted at her that she would have to be frisked too, and refused to let her mother explain what has happening.

Ms Brademeyer wrote: ‘It was implied, several times, that my mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter.’

In her terror, Isabella tried to run away rather than face a full body pat-down, which unsurprisingly enraged the TSA officers further.

One officer even told the girl’s mother that the airport would have to be shut down and every flight cancelled if the four-year-old did not co-operate.

They also apparently described the little girl as a ‘high security threat’.

As Isabella was taken into a side room for a pat-down, accompanied by her mother, she could not stop crying and refused to let the agents touch her.

An officer repeatedly said she had ‘seen a gun in a teddy bear’ in the past, in an apparent attempt to justify the situation.

Ms Brademeyer continued: ‘The TSO loomed over my daughter, with an angry grimace on her face, and ordered her to stop crying.

‘When my scared child could not do so, two TSOs called for backup saying, “The suspect is not cooperating.” The suspect, of course, being a frightened child. They treated my daughter no better than if she had been a terrorist.’

Isabella continued to cry, and officers said the family would have to leave the airport as the TSA was unable to frisk the four-year-old.

When a manager was called, he decided that the distraught Isabella could be checked alongside her mother, and let the family pass through security at last.

But their nightmare was not yet over, as on a connecting flight in Denver, an airport employee demanded to know which of the family was Isabella – and ‘looked really confused’ when the girl was pointed out to her.

Ms Brademeyer concluded her Facebook post by drawing attention to TSA rules against separating children from their parents, and added: ‘I feel compelled to share this story in the hope that no other child will have to share in this experience.’

When The Consumerist approached the TSA for comment on the bizarre incident, a spokesman said: ‘TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper current screening procedures in conducting a modified pat-down on the child.’

Last month the agency came in for criticism when a video of a three-year-old boy in wheelchair having a full pat-down and being swabbed for explosives circulated on the internet.

Former GCHQ head calls for greater surveillance of Facebook and Twitter

independent.co.uk | Apr 24, 2012

by Terri Judd

The former head of GCHQ Sir David Omand called for greater surveillance of Facebook and Twitter today, reigniting the debate on how much the state should be allowed to snoop on individuals.

Launching what he described as the first serious study into how the police and security services can use social media as a form of intelligence, Sir David said it was time they catch up with the explosion in the medium and develop expertise in understanding its particular language and culture.

The #Intelligence report, produced by the influential think tank Demos, comes just weeks after the government was forced to retreat on plans for legislation to allow the police and intelligence services to monitor the online activity of every person in Britain after cross-party uproar.

Yesterday Nick Pickles, Director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said “It is perfectly legitimate for the authorities to be able to use new technology to monitor a suspect, but the Home Office’s plans involve indiscriminate surveillance of every person using the internet and no amount of legal tinkering will make that any more acceptable.”

Track criminals via social media, says ex-GCHQ head

“The (Demos) report is absolutely right to say that we need a far more open discussion about what data should be monitored and the legal framework underpinning the collection of data,” he added.

Acknowledging that there were major concerns about a “digital big brother”, Sir David said there nevertheless needed to be monitoring of a medium that was increasingly used by criminals and terrorists: “We need to start by having a public debate then to establish a set of principles by which such activity can be regulated.”

In particular, he said, the police were found wanting during last summer’s riots: “They didn’t have the capacity to look at these social media sites and, when they did look, they were swamped.”

In a series of recommendations to the government, Sir David – the Cabinet Office’s former Security and Intelligence co-ordinator – said out-dated legislation needed to be reformed to ensure an ethical and legal framework for such intelligence gathering, which was clear and transparent.

The report recommends that social media should be divided into two categories, the first being open source information which public bodies could monitor to improve services while not identifying individuals without permission.

On the more contentious category of monitoring private social media, Sir David said it needed to be properly authorised – including the need for warrants when it was considered “genuine intrusion” –  only used as a last resort when there was substantial cause and with regard to “collateral damage” to any innocent people who might have been in contact with a suspect.

Calling for greater clarity from the government on how it intends to proceed, the report’s recommendations include an inter-departmental review of legislation, including the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, as well as a single centre of excellence across the police adept at analysing information.