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Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry have responded to suggestions by British Prime Minister David Cameron that police and intelligence services should be empowered to shut their services down in times of national emergency.
Speaking before an emergency sitting of parliament, the first since violent riots broke out across English cities, David Cameron announced a decision to explore ways in which perhaps social networking services might be shut down.
“… 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.”
The three services receiving the most attention in this regard, Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry parent company Research in Motion, issued tentative responses to the proposal.
According to the Financial Times'(FT) tech blog Facebook has done the most to cooperate with the UK government in this regard.
The social networking giant said it had already put teams to work to go through the social network removing messages deemed to incite violence and criminality. It also stated that it would “look forward” to meeting with the UK government.
RIM issued a statement saying, “We welcome the opportunity for consultation together with other companies in the technology and telecommunication industry. RIM continues to comply with both UK privacy laws as well as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which are of course the same laws that apply to other technology and telecommunications companies in the UK”.
Twitter, also circumspect in its reply, was quoted as saying that it would be “happy to talk” to the UK government.
It is still too early to know how any “social-network” block might work. Free-speech advocates have, however, already voiced strong concerns regarding the proposal.
“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 also noted how the reaction of the UK government bore a resemblence to the reactions of toppled dictators during the Arab Spring who often blocked access to social networks as people used them as means by which to organise their deposal. “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. These things weren’t caused by Twitter or BlackBerry.”