British Prime Minister Discusses Social Media Censorship

    August 11, 2011

David Cameron’s country–well, his boss’ country–has been in the grips of some widely-publicized rioting. The story played out over the Internet as the immediacy of modern technology brought us reams of startling images and additional information concerning the chaos. Another area of focus were the rioters themselves, especially the use of social media to organize their attacks.

The Blackberry issue was well documented, as many rioters used Blackberry Messenger to coordinate. Once RIM offered to help the London authorities, the company blog was hacked for their efforts. Twitter and Facebook didn’t escape riot use, either.

And now, the backlash from the British Government begins:

What we have is British Prime Minister David Cameron essentially proposing the idea of allowing the police to censor these kinds of communication technologies. The methods of how are not discussed–that will be up to the geeks to figure out–but it’s clear, the London riots will have some long-felt repercussions.

Maybe even the censorship of social media. Mr. Cameron’s exact words:

Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can be also used for ill. So, we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at rather it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

The bold portion is important aspect. Is it right for the government, British or otherwise, to essentially eavesdrop on social media-powered conversations, with orders to shut them down if they “are plotting violence, disorder and criminality?”

Does that overstep privacy boundaries or is it a necessary step in order to combat the occasional social unrest? Whatever the conclusion, the British Parliament needs to hurry with their decision because the disorder has spread to Manchester:

Frivolity aside, how much power is too much? How would the British government decide which technologies to limit? What type of Blackberry Messenger conversation would cross the line and how would the watchers know if it did? Or is this a case of reacting to future reports that potential civil unrest targets are using Facebook to coordinate, therefore, the British government such off access to these miscreants?

So many questions.