Cameron’s Call To Ban Social Media: Echoes of Mubarak’s Internet Shutdown?

Among the measures to “restore law and order” Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed is to “ban those suspected of planning criminal acts from using social media” and other digital communication tools. Home secretary Theresa May is to meet with representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion, the maker of the Blackberry smartphone, says the New York Times. Free-speech advocates were quick to point out that such measures draw direct comparisons with tactics used by Middle Eastern dictators — Mubarak shutting off the Internet in Egypt — to repress democratic protesters, not company the leader of 21st century Britain is likely to want to find himself in.

In a three-hour speech to the House of Commons on Thursday, Cameron also said that police would be allowed to use plastic bullets and water cannons, to impose curfews, to allow the army to take over some riot functions to free up police and to give police the “discretion to remove face coverings under any circumstances where there is reasonable suspicion that they are related to criminal activity.” Cameron’s call to impose restrictions on social media also recalls French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent requests for a “civilized internet,” notes the New York Times.

Police said that three people were arrested in Southhampton on Thursday in connection with using BlackBerry Messenger or Twitter to encourage rioting. But civil liberties groups immediately pointed out that Cameron is wading into dangerous water. Said Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship:

“It seems like a bizarre and kind of knee-jerk reaction by the government. We’ve seen this kind of thing time and time again, especially with young people, when it comes to technology. Now it’s social networks and smartphones. A few years ago it was video games. Before that it was horror films.”

Reidy emphasize that “these things weren’t caused by Twitter or Blackberry” and indeed they were not; someone had only to turn on their TV set to see reports of where the riots were. London’s Metropolitan police have been using social media sites including Flickr to post photos of those involved in the riots. Residents of London have been using sites like Facebook to assist in cleaning up the streets.

The Blackberry smartphone is the most popular among British teenagers, with 37 percent of market share. Its messenging service is difficult for law enforcement officials to track and Research In Motion has had to make concessions to governments in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or face a ban on its service.

A hacker group has attacked Blackberry’s website over reports that it is helping police, says the BBC. A group called Team Poison has defaced the official Blackberry blog and posted a message threatening the company with retaliation if it handed user data to authorities.

Cameron’s singling out social media as playing a role in the riots could well come back to haunt him. Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, points out that the “police already have powers to require the removal of face-coverings and inciting violence using social media is already a criminal offence” and that the fact that they did not use such measures “suggests that it’s not particularly useful when combating violence in a riot scenario.” Instilling such “kneejerk powers which bare little logical connection to the harm they seek to address” — and without any real investigation into the riots — could actually create more problems down the road.

Cameron has said that he will not let “phony concerns about human rights” get in the way of the “fight back” against the riots and unrest. His proposal to ban the use of social media indeed shows how little he is concerned about basic human freedoms.

Related Care2 Coverage

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UN Declares Internet a “Fundamental Human Right”

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London Mostly Quiet But Violence Spreads To Other Cities

Photo by EmmaLB

37 comments

Dianne Robertson
Dianne Robertson7 years ago

Clearly Cameron is frightened by the MURDOCK PHONE TAPPING INVESTIGATION which is swirling around his knees,The distraction of RIOTS is handy but hardly serious.The great police work in draging in two would-be riot starters,convicting them and THROWING THEM IN JAIL will certainly take our minds off POLICE SELLING NEWS TO MURDOCK.Now the suggestion of banning cell phones! SAY ,We REALLY OUGHT TO BAN TOILETS! People can put snakes and aligators in them to terrorize EVERYONE CONNECTED TO THE SEWER SYSTEM! Let's get REAL.Cameron will probably be found involved in THE HIGH LEVEL SUCKING UP TO MURDOCK. SO better ban more than phones!

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Frank Mugford
Frank Mugford7 years ago

They have a point but failed to make it cogently: sure, we need a World Revolution against established order, where few rule the many, where mediocrity prevails, where getting something for nothing reigns, where 'I want it now is good' and the weak minded fall easy targets to the blandishments of greasy advertisers/advertisements.

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Frank Mugford
Frank Mugford7 years ago

The outrageous mores of young(ish) people these days is something that has been created by the media and advertising then facilitated by stupid parents who have allowed their children to run all over them, This same stupid parenting and generalised, populist 'Mob Think' also allows, apparently applauds, the existence of 'Big Brother'/celebrity mania/footballer type bad role modelling/excessive pay and returns for triviality to exist.
The media extols the utter irrelevancy of so much, such as football(tribalism) for example which appears to have reached the status of a World religion, whilst minimising the important issues of our existence. Apropos football, and golf and tennis etc., I'll start to believe there are financial problems in our society when I see footballers on Job Seekers' allowance and football clubs going bankrupt; when Ferguson is down to his last string of race horses, the little gum chewing twit.
This is not the last of this by a long way; I don't approve of the thievery of these louts no more than the plaintiff cries of students about their grants who, incidentally, only really wanted several years of boozing, sexual debauchery and the like whilst studying the Beckham/Rooney syllabus of social etiquette.
But, why didn't the rioters attack the city of London, where the real crooks live, or Fred the Shred's place in Edinburgh or the homes of CEO's, single cell footballers or hedge fund mangers?
They have a point but failed to make it cogently: sure, we

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Helena Plum Bowyer
Helena B7 years ago

Most people did not take part in these disturbances. Many people from all walks of life have helped to clear them up.
The first thing the government wants to do is reduce freedoms in a way the would be condemned if it was in an undemocratic society. They must love the opportunity to reduce our freedoms. As for police, I have to ask, when there were peaceful demonstations about student fees etc from young people they held them in pens for ages and treated them terribly, no doubt to make sure they were put off attending other events. However when real rioting is taking place they let it happen. Why?
Also we live in a society where we are taught to consume and what you have is more important than who you are. No talk of this suprisingly from the people whio benefit from this.
Yes the looters will be tried on mass and sent to jail. As far as I know not one thieving, deceitful banker or risk manager has been prosecuted for bringing the UK to its knees.

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Marco Galli
Marco Galli7 years ago

Certainly this kind of revolts are stupid and make the game of those who want special laws and censorship.
Who has gained from these riots is Cameron, now will have any excuse to turn off the violence even all the peaceful revolts.
The fact that these riots have occurred when the prime minister was abroad, in Tuscany: makes me to think of those men wants carry out a crime and wants create an alibi for for themselves, I would not want the protests were driven by UK secret sevices and for give a strict to citizens freedom.
I remember the G8 in Genoa when newly installed Berlusconi to government, while Black Block moved freely for the city, destroing shop windows and burning cars: Police were massacring people in the authorized, demonstrations of pacifists.
Of the hundreds people arrested and tortured in those days, the hundreds of injured and one died, virtually none of them was found guilty, while the complaints for the violence from police were hundreds and many policemen were tried and convicted.
Even Berlusconi has have already tried two times to censor the Internet in Italy, using the Trojan horse of copyright, would be sufficient that someone or anyone claimed to have the paternity of an image, a phrase or other, he could blocked the blog site.
We have stoped the attack to last minute, with the signatures on Avaast.org.
Freedom is difficult to conquer, but it's easy to lose!

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Patrick F.
Patrick f7 years ago

Poor leaders make good dictators.

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Akin Adelakun
Akin Adelakun7 years ago

Thanks for the info

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Will Rogers
Will Rogers7 years ago

It's amazing that shops on both sides of a bookshop was looted! These youths are really cool to have that amount respect for books. It shows they value books otherwise they would have burnt it down! But I suppose whatever they did would have been demonised. Damned if they burnt it down and damned if they didn't.

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Will Rogers
Will Rogers7 years ago

Cameron went to Eton. There are more Etononians in the british government than there are women! This posh racist fool Cameron wants to ban social media networks and use rubber/plastic bullets on the poor working classes and everyone agrees with him because they don't like the blacks getting uppity. England the land of the 'Paki basher'. The neo nazi skinheads, the football hooligan! Does not like the blacks complaining when they're treated like 3rd class citizens. The white students ran riot this spring, he must have seen that as just 'high japes' or something. ..oh yeah, except they killed a newspaper seller. Or the many peaceful protests that happens every year and are completely ignored. These people are not rising up for nothing you know? There are deep injustices and hidden human rights violations happening. People are being killed by the police almost daily in England. And when working class blacks or whites try to speak out their voices are silenced by an increasingly institutionally racist and classist media. Do not believe that these riots started in a vacuum without reason, it only appears that way to an outsider. You know? Like Australia. No one is interested in  the plight of the aborigine neither.

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trina firey
Trina D. firey7 years ago

I agree with barbara s.

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