The Dangers of Facebook

November 13, 2007 by Thomas Kurys

   The ever-growing world of online social networking is a creature with many
faces. From organizing events to finding companionship, programs such as
Facebook offer something for everybody. But as the recent fiasco involving
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers shows, beneath the
superficial glitter lies a dark and potentially dangerous side to the
technology. In a world where terrorist cells are spawned and developed
over the internet, left unchecked, Facebook and other such sites add one
more weapon to their arsenal.
  Weaknesses are inherent in any organization, but it is how they are
managed that establishes the overall strength. With the advent of the
internet and the modern forms of terrorism, these weaknesses present a
greater threat to national security if exposed. Intelligence can now be
gathered remotely and distributed to an infinite number of people in a
matter of seconds. Moreover, the landscape of homeland security has
changed drastically over the years. Recent terrorist attacks have
highlighted the need for added vigilance. It is therefore imperative that
potentially sensitive information be as inaccessible as possible.
  The CBSA incident underscores this point. It is one thing to have border
agents who do not know how to properly recognize foreign passports.
Admittedly, this is a problem. However, it is another thing entirely to
have this publically advertized and to essentially offer an online manual
on how to illegally enter into Canada. Step one: fabricate a “weird
foreign country” passport. Step two: enter through a lane attended by an
officer who “totally freaked out” at a European passport (officer to be
identified by their Facebook profile picture, of course). Step three:
repeat steps one and two until desired result is achieved.
  Clearly this presents a problem. But what is the solution? The legal
protection afforded by the Facebook Terms of Use does not provide much
security. The user retains the copyright to their content, however, all
other users are granted a limited licence to access and download content
that they have properly gained access to for personal use. In their own
right, these laws serve very important purposes, but to those wishing to
perform more heinous crimes than infringing copyright, they are completely
irrelevant. Further, it would be a mistake to think that by limiting who
can access your online profile and activity, that you are fully
restricting access to it. To the computer hackers capable of infiltrating
government registries and robbing banks online, hacking into a Facebook
profile would be child’s play. As Facebook itself warns “no security
measures are perfect or impenetrable”. Clearly greater protection is
  It is time for the Canadian government to take a stand and strictly
regulate the online activity of those who are in a position of national
security. One extreme option open to them is to completely prohibit any
such employee from partaking in any form of online social networking, in
any capacity. This plan may come off as being too severe and dissuade
people from taking such positions. Further, it could be subjected to a
Constitutional challenge, specifically under freedom of association. A
more sensible solution would be to allow employees to access these
programs for purely social purposes and to reprimand those who do not
obey. Specific restrictions could vary according to the type of position
held and the level of security clearance. This option still presents a
risk, since after all there is often a significant overlap between one’s
social and work life and many people have difficulty separating themselves
from their work. However, if the restrictions are carefully laid out and
explained, and their adherence is closely monitored, that risk should be
reduced to a minimum. These men and women have a great deal of
responsibility and they would undoubtedly accept this as part of their
duty to the country.
  The CSBA episode brings to light a lingering issue that needs to be
addressed. The internet is capable of disseminating large amounts of
information in a small amount of time. Having sensitive information in
unsecured locations is a risk that we as a society should not have to
bear. Since Facebook, and like programs, cannot be made impregnable, the
only option is to ensure that no such information finds its way there. By
limiting the online activity of Canadians in positions of national
security, the problem is cut off at the source.

  1. One Response to “The Dangers of Facebook”

  2. As Thomas Kurys points out in his comment, online social networking sites can pose a danger to our national security especially when they are being improperly used by our own Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) officers. Although threats of online terrorism and subversion of Canada’s security systems through these social websites are real possibilities, the recent facebook postings of CBSA officers drinking and partying while in uniform along with their seemingly immature and unknowledgable comments present a danger that is much closer to home. While copyright law does protect the facebook user’s right to exclusive use of the contents his/her personal profile, it does not restrict the general public from gaining access to such content. In today’s world of societal anxiety regarding crime it is absolutely unfathomable that members of the public will have any faith that our border agents are capable of providing us with the protection we need when unsuitable conduct of in-uniform officers is posted online for everyone to see. Information detailing how and when criminals would be able to cross Canadian borders without any problem should never find its way on to social networking sites that are accessible by the general public or on to unsecured sites whatsoever. We entrust our border agents with our safety and in return for this trust the public expects a certain degree of responsibility. Whereas everyone has the right to free speech and association, the recent facebook postings by our CBSA officials show that our trust may be sorrowly misplaced.

    By Ashleigh Leon on Nov 27, 2007

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