. . . not least because there is a whole grab-bag of national and European human rights legislation which would prevent such an incredibly counter-productive move, not to mention the centuries of British tradition of respect for free speech which would be set at nought by it. However, this statement is simply propaganda gold-dust for every corrupt, repressive, and dictatorial regime in the world:
" . . 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."
Here's Xinhua crowing:
"We may wonder why western leaders, on the one hand, tend to indiscriminately accuse other nations of monitoring, but on the other take for granted their steps to monitor and control the Internet.
They are not interested in learning what content those nations are monitoring, let alone their varied national conditions or their different development stages.
Laying undue emphasis on Internet freedom, the western leaders become prejudiced against those "other than us," stand ready to put them in the dock and attempt to stir up their internal conflicts."
Meanwhile, the police, who the majority of British people rightly credit for developing - somewhat tardily - the tactics necessary to quell the riots, are showing us exactly why it would be both wrong and counter-productive to block social networking sites in such circumstances. From the Greater Manchester Police's Twitter feed:
And this man is far from the only looter caught via social media. The police have been posting tweet after tweet throughout the day about arrests carried out based on information obtained by the public through photos on Flickr, through bragging on Twitter feeds and Facebook, and through other web-available sources such as Craigslist and eBay. Unlike mobile phone calls, communication by text, even through encrypted networks, leaves an electronic paper trail which police can later use as evidence. No snooping or espionage is needed to do this - all of this information was either posted openly on the internet, or was provided by members of the public with access to it.
It is hard to believe that the majority of this information would have been entrusted with the police if it had firstly not been possible to upload it, and secondly, the police were seen as being in the position of censoring the media. I no more credit David Cameron's suggestion that censorship or restriction of access might be considered, than I do his various other tough-man poses regarding the use of water cannon (dismissed by the police as unsuitable) and plastic bullets (always issued in riot conditions, but only for use in the most extreme conditions).
[Picture: Social networking of a different kind - notes posted on the smashed windows of a shop in Clapham Junction as 300 volunteer "Riot Wombles" worked to clear up the mess left behind by the looters. Picture taken by Tom Goold, a former colleague of mine in Japan, on his way back from work on Wednesday evening.]