British PM Considers Social Network Censorship In The Wake Of London Riots

Brad Chacos

When tyrants in Middle Eastern countries cut Internet access in the midst of political upheaval, it's pointed to as yet another symptom of a sad and brutal dictatorship. Does that thinking hold true when a Western country censors its citizen's ability to speak online? We may soon find out. In the wake of the devastating riots in the heart of London, Prime Minister David Cameron alluded to the House of Commons that the British government may consider pulling the plug on social networks when the goings get rough in the UK.

"Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media," Cameron said . "Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them."

"So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."

This isn't the first technological-themed response to the riots; as we told you the other day, a group of Google users is trying to ID rioters captured in photographs using facial recognition technology . But if the British government indeed decides that it's acceptable to disconnect social networking services during times of duress, it seems like it would be acting contrary to the recommendations of a recent UN Human Rights Council report.

Paragraph 79 of  " The Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression ," (PDF) which was officially recognized by the UN Human Rights Council on June 3rd, states: "The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest." Sure, denying access to social networks isn't quite the same thing as cutting Internet access entirely, but we're "Spirit of the Law" types of people (and yeah, we know we originally covered the UN report from the file sharing slant , but it works here, too).

Image credit: AP/

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