Monday, 15 August 2011

Riots should not end civil liberties...

The political reaction to the riots of last week has not been good.  There are many things I could comment on however the one that stood out for me was the call for social networks to be blocked in an attempt to stop the flow of information in order to make the rioters less organised.

This to me is a ridiculously dangerous road to start down.  It will then be all to easy for them to justify blocking such tools just because there is the prospect of violence/criminality.  It is totally illiberal and in my view also vastly misguided.

Twitter, Facebook and people using their blackberry's may have helped spread the violence but in my mind as big a cause was the media.  Their coverage showing people getting away with basic theft gave copiers in other cities the incentive to do the same.  They were also basically advertising exactly where any trouble was if people did want to go and get involved..  At the same time social networks were being used to help keep others informed, some police authorities were using it to dispel rumours.  It allowed for communication between those adversely effected by the violence as well as those causing it.  If you start restricting people's ability to communicate then the next stage is to temporarily block mobile phone signals, which could cause real problems for people adversely caught up in it who need medical attention or nearby and suffer something completely unrelated.  Innocent people rely on these tools, to stop them would be a terrible mistake.

Surely communicating in an open and public domain makes it easier for the perpetrators to be caught.  It might be easy for them to use to stir up trouble but it's not as private as a personal message or a phone call which, lets face it, would probably have been used instead otherwise.  

People from all over the political spectrum were quick to condemn Egypt earlier this year when there were rumours about them restricting the ability of their citizens to communicate during the protests.  To only back freedom of communication when you agree with the cause is hypocritical and puts you as no better than those you were speaking out against. 

Good blogs on this subject have been one by Caron Lindsay and Julian Huppert (MP) - one of the few to make sensible points in the discussions.

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