After years of secretly hoovering up metadata about millions of citizens, Britain’s spy agency has made its public foray into one of the growing sources for such information by opening its own Instagram account.
GCHQ’s account on the photo-sharing site claims the agency will provide a glimpse into its secret world. Its first post acknowledges GCHQ’s institutional suspicion about openness by including a photograph of the border fence with a “no photography” sign attached.
The account is part of GCHQ’s expanding presence on social media, and comes two years after it opened a Twitter account, which has 75,000 followers.
|The GCHQ ‘doughnut’ base in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Photograph: GCHQ/PA
Such public online socialising is designed to put a friendly gloss over the agency’s more covert activities. Leaks by Edward Snowden, a whistleblower who worked for the GCHQ’s US counterpart, revealed that GCHQ collects and stores vast quantities of data about individuals, including Facebook posts.
The number of Instagram users worldwidetopped a billion this year. This is still less than half that for the parent company, Facebook, but Instagram is more popular among younger people. The Pew Research Center found that 51% of US teenagers use Facebook, compared with 72% who use Instagram.
By granting apps such as Instagram access to smart phone cameras and microphones, users are encouraged to forfeit information about their movements and conversations – a gift to intelligence agencies.
A GHCQ spokeswoman said the public account was designed to show how that the Cheltenham-based agency was “working 24/7 to help keep the country safe”“Hopefully this will help dispel some myths and show who we are as individuals,” she said.The Guardian
GCHQ has come under intense scrutiny since Snowden’s revelations about how it was accessing vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people as well as targeted suspects. The service, which works alongside MI5 and MI6 to deal with cyber-attacks and terrorism and support the armed forces, marks its 100th anniversary in 2019.
The GCHQ spokeswoman said: “As we enter our centenary year, we’re more keen than ever that people get a picture of what life is really like as a GCHQ employee. We hope our Instagram channel will encourage talented people to consider working with us at GCHQ to help keep the country safe.
“You’ll not only learn about our work to stay one step ahead of those wishing to do us harm, but also get a glimpse at our hobbies, clubs and coffee shops.”