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Mr Plod and social media

online surveillance imageHave you ever heard of Socmint? No? Neither had we until reading a report posted yesterday on

Socmint is an abbreviation of Social Media Intelligence and is a unit within the Metropolitan Police that has been conducting blanket surveillance of British citizens’ public social media conversations for the past 2 years.

During this time Socmint has been developing the tools for blanket surveillance of the public’s social media conversations conducted via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube videos and anything else UK citizens post in the public online sphere.

It’s been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has a staff of 17 officers in the National Domestic Extremism Unit (NDEU).

If you don’t know what a ‘domestic extremist’ is, here’s a clip of some outside the Atomic Weapons Establishment – the UK’s nuclear bomb factory – in Aldermaston.

Anyway, to return to matters more serious, knowledge of the existence of Socmint came about by accident, not design: the Met’s Umut Ertogral, revealed it in May during what he intended to be a private presentation at an Australian security conference. According to Met sources, the conference organisers ‘forgot’ to tell the audience that the talk was off the record.

At that conference Ertogal is reported as saying:

“[Social media] almost acts like CCTV on the ground for us. Just like the private sector use it for marketing and branding, we’ve developed something to listen in and see what the public are thinking.”

The Met justifies its social media monitoring with the following statement:

Online channels will attract those intent on committing crime, engaged in gang activity or communicating with rival gangs to fuel tension and threaten violence.

Really, Mr Plod? Are you serious – or just making excuses?

The danger in all of this surveillance, which comes hard on the heels of revelations about the NSA’s Prism programme and GCHQ‘s Tempora surveillance activities (news passim) is that when it comes to the use of so-called ‘intelligence’, the police may put two and two together to make five.

The French clergyman and politician Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) is once reputed to have said:

Give me six lines written by the most honourable of men and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.