A guide for migrants and asylum rights organisations about privacy settings

This guide is for anyone concerned about their social media accounts being monitored by public authorities, but it’s especially targeted at people from minority and migrant communities who may be disproportionately affected by various forms of surveillance.

screen of laptop and phone

'Social media monitoring’ (sometimes also known as ’SOCMINT’) is the analysis of the content and metadata of people’s social media posts, for example, to identify the political views, and relationships that you have with others online. It may include snooping on content posted to public and even private groups and pages. And it may involve ’scraping’ of data, which in effect enables someone to collect and analyse a huge amount of data about you, and then easily build profiles and predictions about you.

People from minority and migrant backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to social media monitoring.

Who is using SOCMINT?

Local Authorities (Councils) in the UK are analysing people’s social media accounts, such as Facebook and Twitter, as part of their intelligence gathering and investigation tactics in areas such as council tax payments, children’s services, benefits and monitoring protests and demonstrations. This has particular consequences and a disproportionate negative impact on certain individuals and communities.

We also know that police forces in the UK undertake social media monitoring. For example, the Metropolitan Police’s National Domestic Extremism Unit and Online Hate Crime Hub reportedly use social media monitoring to monitor people's social media activity. And in 2017, South Yorkshire Police reportedly spent £55,000 on a two-year contract for a social media monitoring tool.

Frontex, the European Union's border control agency, planned to give up to €400,000 to a surveillance company to track people on social media so that border guards “would have an understanding of the current landscape” as well as “a strategical warning system on changes such as the socio-political, economic or human security environment that could pose challenges to Frontex policies.”. The tender, issued in 2019, was eventually canceled after we asked Frontex whether they had gone through the necessary checks to make sure their plan was legal.

Who could be a target?

Everyone is potentially targeted as at some point in our lives we all interact with local authorities.

For those social media users who does not control and amend their privacy setting in a certain way, their data is potentially fair game for social media monitoring. This monitoring could be occurring without your knowledge or awareness, in a wide variety of their functions, predominantly intelligence gathering and investigations.

There are particular groups of the populations which are being impacted dramatically by the use of such techniques because they are dependent and subject to the functions of local authorities such as individuals receiving social assistance/welfare as well as migrants.

Newly established or reformed social protection programmes have gradually become founded and reliant on the collection and processing of vast amounts of personal data and increasingly the models for decision-making include data exploitation and components of automated decision-making and profiling. In some cases, our research has shown that local authorities in Great Britain will go so far as to use such information to make accusations of fraud and withhold urgently needed support from families who are living in extreme poverty.

We have seen similar developments in the migration sector where for immigration enforcement purposes governments are resorting to social media intelligence. Some of these activities are undertaken directly by government themselves but in some instances, governments are calling on companies to provide them with the tools and/or knowhow to undertake this sort of activities.

Disclaimer

These guides and tips can only do so much and will protect you to the extent that the service or app allows. In some countries such as the US, parternships exists between official bodies and Big Tech companies allowing access to data that is overwise private and not accessible.

Always be aware of these potential risks and never consider your privacy or security to be perfect.

Glossary

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The software you use to browse the internet. Most popular browser are Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Edge.

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