Freedom of expression is guaranteed to Solomon Islanders in terms of Section 12 of Solomon Islands Constitution although one’s freedom to say what one likes is not absolute when it comes to saying things which could be considered a breach of the criminal law as defined in the statutory provisions of the Penal Code.
A police statement last week saying online chat forums were being monitored by the police for possible breaches of the law could have possibly come as a shock to many users of social chat forums and raised the specter of surveillance akin to what might expect to happen in communist led countries.
The police media statement was carefully worded and a full reading of it should have allayed fears of a Big Brother approach to law enforcement but, nevertheless, there are those, I suspect, who might maintain the monitoring of the social media platforms as an infringement of the right to free speech in a democratic society.
There is a growing trend in law enforcement across the world for what I would term “social media mining.”
Using special social media monitoring software (SMMS) many police organizations, large and small, monitor social media to gain prior information on crime and potential crime and for intelligence gathering generally.
The interesting question, however, is what privacy concerns does it raise?
Some might argue that privacy is essential for political liberty and justice, and for commercial fairness and equity. A lack of privacy can make one less secure.
As witnessed in countries that have oppressive regimes surveillance has had a chilling effect on freedom. People are known to change their behavior when they live under surveillance.
A danger to surveillance is that the fact that the practice could make would-be offenders against the law more secretive and essentially go under-ground.
If that were to occur there would be less chance of detecting what subversive ideas and potentially illegal acts were being planned and then become political causes for disruptive social change.
As I understand the situation in some US States the law requires the law enforcement agency to acquire a search warrant, more specifically a warrant to a wiretap to be able to monitor internet activity but it all depends what kind of agreement exists between the enforcement body and the internet service provider (ISP)
I have no doubt that those who use the social media chat forums in the Solomon Islands without using language contrary to the provisions of the criminal law have nothing to fear from the police monitoring their words and I very much hope the warning given by the police will serve to ensure peace and stability prevails for the good of all.