UK Wants to Clamp Down on Social Media During Unrest

Lora Bentley

When Egyptian officials shut down the country's Internet in an attempt to stem the flow of information among protestors, nearly the whole world cried foul. And protestors found ways to communicate anyway.


When U.S. legislators introduced what became known as an "Internet Kill Switch" bill, critics accused them of attempting to give the president too much power in the event of a "cyber-security emergency." The second time they introduced the bill, they clarified that it authorized shutting down only certain parts of the Internet for limited periods of time.


This week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would consider shutting down certain social networks there while the unrest in England continues. Rioters have reportedly used RIM's BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter and other such channels to coordinate. In fact, they often opt for BBM because its messages are encrypted and can't easily be monitored. (It was precisely this feature that caused the governments of India and the United Arab Emirates to have such a problem with RIM's services, if you'll recall.)


According to International Business Times Cameron told an emergency session of parliament:

We are working with police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these Web sites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.

Though I understand what they're trying to do and why, I don't think a shutdown will accomplish what officials want it to accomplish. It may even make things worse. A better course of action, according to former British signals intelligence agency official John Bassett, is to encourage citizens to "identify alarming developments on social media" and to equip law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence on these developments via the social networks.

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