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UK Riots: Gov’t Mulls Kill Switch For Twitter & Facebook, Army On Streets

Opposition calls for rethink on CCTV scale back

Steve Watson
Aug 11, 2011

The British government has today suggested that it is working with the intelligence agencies on a way of shutting down at will social media websites including Twitter, claiming that they were used by looters to organise and avoid police during the riots in London and elsewhere in the UK.

“Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.” Prime Minister David Cameron said during today’s emergency meeting of Parliament.

“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media.” Cameron said.

“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 Prime Minister added, without going into detail concerning how a block on such services would be applied.

During later questions to the Prime Minister, he suggested that government was considering whether it was feasible “to give the police the technology to trace people on Twitter or BBM or close it down”.

Cameron also announced that the home secretary will meet with representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry concerning the “responsibility” those companies have in preventing incitements to violence.

Although the notion that social media was used as a tool by rioters has been repeated ad infinitum by the media this week, the evidence to back up the claim is hard to find.

In the absence of such evidence, the government has suggested that misinformation and untruths spread on Twitter also constituted cause to consider a kill switch option.

Police have suggested that BlackBerry’s closed network Messenger service was used heavily by looters, with sources within the company having already revealed that Blackberry is “engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can”.

Government eavesdroppers at the super secret Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are reportedly working to provide police with information on the suspected rioters gleaned from messages they sent over the network.

Messages sent over BBM are encrypted and thought to be virtually untraceable, yet it is possible that government decoders working with the company itself could unearth chat logs, GPS locations, customer information, as well as direct access to people’s BlackBerry Messengers.

A number of people have already appeared in court charged with using Facebook to incite rioting, others have been arrested for allegedly using Twitter to encourage looting and violence.

Twitter itself has refused to close down accounts that police claim belong to suspected rioters. The company said that it felt information should “continue to flow” and that securing “freedom of expression” was essential.

A spokesperson for the company has said that the following statement, issued earlier in the year, covers the stance of the company with regards to the recent events in the UK:

“Our goal is to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them. For this to happen, freedom of expression is essential.”

“Some tweets may facilitate positive change in a repressed country, some make us laugh, some make us think, some downright anger a vast majority of users. We don’t always agree with the things people choose to tweet, but we keep the information flowing irrespective of any view we may have about the content.”

Beyond the issue of social networks, Cameron revealed that police have already been given powers to use water cannon and plastic bullets on any suspected rioters or looters, should they deem it necessary.

The government will also give the police powers to demand people remove face masks and balaclava’s.

The Prime Minister also admitted that he had held discussions with senior security officials concerning the potential use of the military on the streets in conjunction with a curfew.

“It is my responsibility to make sure that every contingency is looked at — including whether there are tasks that the army could undertake that would free up more police for the front line,” Cameron said.

He stated that the role the army would play would be “some simple guarding tasks”, adding that such a deployment is “not for today, it is not even for tomorrow, it is just so you have contingency plans in case it becomes necessary.”

“On dealing with crowds, we are also looking at the use of existing dispersal powers and whether any wider power of curfew is necessary,” he said.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party called for a rethink on the coalition Government’s proposals to scale back the use of CCTV under its “civil liberties drive” pledge.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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