Friday, August 26, 2011

UK tightens grip on social networking

Source: Press TV

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May is set to host a meeting with the executives of social networking websites Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry to discuss whether users of the sites should be blocked when they are seen to be planning criminality.

BlackBerry Messenger, a service allowing its users to send free one-to-many messages to their network, was regarded as the main social network used by protesters during the recent unrest swept across England.

While the British politicians and experts consider the possibility of a clampdown on the social networks in the future, May and some top Metropolitan police officers are to discuss with the executives of the social media industry to measure the role of the industry in inciting civil disobedience.

"These discussions will help us determine how law enforcement and the networks can work better together. Among the issues to be discussed is whether and how we should be able to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder, and criminality,” a Home Office spokeswoman said

"Social networking is not a cause of the recent disturbances but a means of enabling criminals to communicate. We are working with the police to see what action can be taken to prevent access to those services by customers identified as perpetrators of disorder or other criminal action,” she added.

This is while that Facebook and Twitter are planning to oppose the ministers and experts' calls to ban people from social networks or close their websites during the unrest.

They are to warn senior British officials against setting up emergency measures, which would lead to a new form of online censorship.

In response, they will outline the measures that both social networks have already initiated to remove messages that potentially inflame public disorder. Facebook insisted that it removed “several credible threats of violence” to stop the unrest across England this month.

Meanwhile the coalition of ten human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Index on Censorship, wrote a letter to Home Secretary and said they were "very concerned" that new steps to restrict Facebook and Twitter will be "susceptible to abuse" and "undermine people's privacy.”

“There is existing legislation regulating the interception and disclosure of communications information, the use of communications evidence by law enforcement and restrictions on people's use of communications technology,” the letter signed by ten leading human rights groups read.

"It is reasonable to review the existing legal regime to ensure that it appropriately fits new technologies,” the groups added

However, the letter said that shutting down, curbing or controlling people's communications networks need extreme care and open, detailed deliberation.

"We are very concerned that new measures, made in good faith but in a heated political environment, will overextend powers in ways that would be susceptible to abuse, restrict legitimate, free communication and expression, and undermine people's privacy. This is especially so if proposals involve unaccountable voluntary arrangements between law enforcement and communications providers," human rights groups said.

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