Government wants to read your tweets, Facebook posts NEW DELHI: Beware of what you put in your Facebook messages or your tweets. Your friends and followers may not be the only ones reading them. Chances are government sleuths would be vetting these private messages. This follows a home ministry directive to the department of telecom, asking it to "ensure effective monitoring of Twitter and Facebook". While "effective monitoring" has not been defined, sources said the MHA's intention is complete surveillance of the sites. This means not only does the government want to keep an eye on tweets and wall posts that are in the public domain but also the content you share only with your friends. Minister of state for communication and information technology Milind Deora said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha last week that DoT had received a letter from the MHA asking it to monitor networking websites in order to "strengthen the cyber security paraphernalia". His statement was in response to a question from MP NK Singh. A senior government official said the home ministry's directive asked DoT to facilitate access to all data in social networking sites for its intelligence agencies. Sunil Abraham, executive director of Centre for Internet and Society said these "blanket surveillance practices" are counterproductive. "People advocating greater surveillance don't understand how the web works. In some cases, if there is evidence, targeted monitoring can be done but if government wants to go through each tweet and every status update, it's just waste of money and resources. Agencies involved in monitoring can do better work by focusing on core issues. This will also save law-abiding citizens from unnecessary harassment," said Abraham. Some Facebook and Twitter content is already under the surveillance of the National Technical Research Organization. Deora confirmed this, telling Parliament that "telecom service providers (already) provide facilities for lawful interception and monitoring of communication flowing through their network including communications from social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter". He said in cases where data is encrypted by websites like Twitter, the department works with the parties concerned to obtain access. Twitter and Facebook don't share private information on their servers without a court order. Twitter also has a policy of informing the user whose information is being shared with security agencies. India has in the recent months sought access to data from internet service providers as well as companies like Research In Motion, which sells BlackBerry phones capable of encrypted emails and messaging. In April the government notified a new set of IT rules, virtually making intermediaries like internet service providers, web hosts and websites like responsible for any wrongdoings on their networks. The rules were widely criticized by privacy activists. Law enforcement agencies across the world monitor social networking sites but in most cases it is selective. A few days ago, Pentagon said that it was looking to monitor websites like Twitter in order to identify terror threats as well as to keep a tab on trends, unrest and events like popular revolts in the Arab world. Darpa, a research body under the US department of defence, said it had earmarked $42m to fund research into monitoring social networks. TIMES VIEW In the terrorism-ridden world we live in, security demands will be intrusive. But that doesn't mean the intrusion can be all-pervasive. When there are detailed guidelines on phone tapping, there's no reason why similar guidelines shouldn't be applied to surveillance of social networking sites. The basic principle should be clear: it can't be a fishing expedition on the off-chance that some wrongdoing may be detected. Surveillance of a person's social networking activity should be allowed only where there is a prima facie case of criminal activity. Plus there should be periodic review of each case.