U.K. Won't Block Social Media, After All

An emergency shipment of common sense has resulted in the British government setting aside plans for banning individuals from social media or even blacking out social media altogether, in cases where it seems to be contributing to civil disorder. U.K. officials apparently backed away from the proposal, which was always viewed as a long shot because of the risk of violating civil liberties, after meeting with representatives from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as Research in Motion, which makes popular Blackberry devices.

Following riots earlier this month, the British Home Office came under enormous public pressure to crack down on miscreants and prevent another outburst of public disorder, and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron singled out the prominent role played by social media in an address to Parliament: "Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized 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."

As might be expected, Cameron's proposal immediately faced stiff opposition on both practical and legal grounds, with some critics warning blackouts could just as easily be used to stifle legitimate protests. And social media bans and blackouts didn't seem to be a big topic of conversation when Home Secretary Theresa May met with executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Research In Motion last week. Unsurprisingly, the discussion focused on more practical alternatives -- especially, it would seem, monitoring and surveillance of social media activity, with an eye to heading off disorder before it starts.

Thus the British Home Office revealed it "did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks" at Thursday's meeting; instead "the discussions looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and cooperation to crack down on the networks being used for criminal behavior." The U.K. Guardian confirms: "Instead of detailing plans to block criminals' access to networks, police and government officials solicited advice from those in attendance about how to monitor the sites.
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