"Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media.
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."
Riots in Tottenham
Flickr image By Beacon Radio
This is a slippery slope that could be used to put unreasonable restraints on a tool that is being used worldwide to fight repression, injustice and authoritarian regimes. If a democracy like the United Kingdom sets the example of blocking access to social media it is just about a certainty that third world dictatorships will follow with even more sever restrictions-- China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain-- would be likely nations to take advantage of the UK example.
This way of thinking brings to mind the movie Minority Report
, in which police use psychics to read people's minds to identify and arrest criminals before they commit crimes.
The fact is that there WERE criminals and hoodlums actively engaged in crimes during the protests, but protests of the size, spread and scope as were seen in England were not simply criminal acts. It is common for ruling groups to characterize protesters as criminals, as troublemakers, rather than as heroic advocates for justice and human rights.
Every stab at internet freedoms is a threat to justice. Every attempt to restrict access to social media, in the name of preventing crime, is fraught with risks of those policies being expanded and abused by other parties.
it's easy for a conservative politician to ring the cheap law-and-order chimes of the constituents that brought him to power. But this idea is a very bad one that must be fought.
If social media are clearly used to plan crimes, then the police are, frankly, being given a gift, since they can see the messaging and planning unfold. Strategically, it would probably be a dumb move to block the use of social media, since it would decrease law agencies abilities to track potential offenders. Going to the extreme of preemptively blocking web access is a dangerous idea that I'm guessing even law agencies will reject as a tool for dealing with criminals. Intelligence agencies will probably, likewise, want to keep the floodgates of information open. But political operatives working through those agencies, the spooks who infiltrate peace protest organizations, the intelligence goons who write up reports on antiwar and human rights activists-- they could very well support this Orwellian approach.