Government backs away from plans to block social media

Friday, August 26th 2011
The government is abandoning plans to block access to social media during civil unrest following a discussion with the industry.
Government backs away from plans to block social media
The government is moving away from plans to block the use of social media websites during periods of civil unrest or other similar emergencies, following a meeting with industry representatives.

Companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion - the maker of the Blackberry smartphone brand - have visited the Home Office for what has been described as a "constructive" meeting over the issue of cooperation with law enforcement agencies.

The issue of potentially blocking access to social networks was raised following the widespread rioting taking place in the UK earlier this month, during which evidence suggested that these services were being used to coordinate criminal acts.

Prime minister David Cameron stated at the time that it was necessary to confer with the police, intelligence services and the broadband industry to assess whether it would be right to stop people from communicating in this manner, when it is known they are "plotting violence, disorder and criminality".

However, following the latest meeting, a Home Office statement has confirmed that the government will not be seeking any additional powers to shut down social networks.

"The discussions looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and cooperation to prevent the networks being used for criminal behaviour," it said.

Spokespeople for the social media industry have welcomed the news, while noting the role played by sites such as Facebook and Twitter in helping people to stay in contact during the riots and in organising the subsequent clean-up.

A Twitter representative noted that its service has been used to help distribute updates and dispel rumours during emergencies, while a Facebook statement noted that the company has firm policies against those who breach rules and regulations.

"We welcome the fact that this was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe, rather than about imposing new restrictions on internet services," it added.

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