UK Prime Minister calls for social media clampdown; could the US be next?

Analystas are rushing in from all sides to examine the causes of the UK riots. Are they about politics and economics? Or is it merely an opportunity for thugs to steal stuff? All we know for sure is that it’s anarchy in the UK and that Saturday’s opening day match between Spurs and Everton has been postponed.

One sobering development, though, should make British citizens sit up and take notice. For that matter, those of us in America and in every other democracy in the world (to the extent that the US can be called a democracy) need to be paying very close attention to the latest move by Brit Prime Minister David Cameron, who is calling on Parliament to consider enacting social media bans.

Amid continuing rioting in multiple cities across the U.K., British Prime Minister David Cameron said in Parliament that legislators should consider laws allowing officials to ban individuals from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, if there is a chance those individuals intend to use the sites to plot violence. Cameron’s proposal, coming as thousands of British police attempt to reestablish order in blighted inner cities, acknowledges the central role played by social media in initiating, organizing, and spreading civil disorder — but immediately drew criticism as a misguided over-reaction, which does nothing to address the real causes of the violence.

Cameron told lawmakers that home secretary Theresa May will meet with executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Research In Motion, which makes Blackberry devices, to determine the feasibility of a social media ban on miscreants. This could include banning individuals who have already used social media to plan violence, and constant monitoring of social media to spot (and preempt) new episodes of violence in the planning phases.

Cameron explained to Parliament: “Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organized via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And 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.”

There’s more at The Guardian.

Now, at a glance, there’s not a lot here to scare a dedicated law-and-order type. We’re just talking about cutting off miscreants, right? And no, I don’t think thugs and looters have any particular right to advanced technology in the pursuit of criminal activity.

The problem is that this only works if you trust the government when it comes to defining the terms. I mean, instead of the UK and Cameron (whom we trust because they’re a lot like us) let’s imagine if this had come from former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as the Arab Spring was collapsing around his ears. Imagine if it were Moammar Gaddhafi or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who’s currently in the process of stomping the shit out of his own protesters) insisting on a meeting with Facebook, Twitter and RIM. Imagine if there were enough North Koreans who haven’t been starved to death to work up a good riot – how would we feel if it were Kim Jong-Il instead of Cameron?

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