Government climbs down on social-network blocking

Summary:The Home Office has pulled back on plans to introduce blocking of social networks during civil unrest, as promised by prime minister David Cameron in the wake of riots earlier in August.A meeting on Thursday between home secretary Theresa May and Twitter, Facebook, Research In Motion and police bodies stayed away from calling on the companies to restrict or block their services.

The Home Office has pulled back on plans to introduce blocking of social networks during civil unrest, as promised by prime minister David Cameron in the wake of riots earlier in August.

A meeting on Thursday between home secretary Theresa May and Twitter, Facebook, Research In Motion and police bodies stayed away from calling on the companies to restrict or block their services.

"The government did not seek any additional powers to close down social-media networks," a Home Office spokesman said, according to reports.

Instead, the "constructive" talks focused on how the social-networking providers can help the police to use their services to combat looting and other crimes.

"The discussions looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and cooperation to crack down on the networks being used for criminal behaviour," the Home Office said in a statement.

During the riots, people reportedly used BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook and Twitter to arrange looting and encourage others to take part, leading to convictions and prison sentences for some.

In response, Cameron raised the idea of banning potential criminals from using the services. The suggestion came under heavy criticism from human rights campaigners and some MPs, who noted repressive regimes use the same policy. In addition, the social-media providers were expected to resist the move.

Facebook, RIM and Twitter all spoke positively about the meeting and its outcome.

"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," Facebook said in a statement.

BlackBerry maker RIM reiterated that it is happy to co-operate with the authorities and its intention to work within national regulations.

"It was a positive and productive meeting and we were pleased to consult on the use of social media to engage and communicate during times of emergency," RIM said.

For its part, Twitter noted that law enforcement agencies and governments use its service.

"We are always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need," a spokeswoman for Twitter said, according to reports.

Topics: Tech Industry

About

Karen Friar is news editor for ZDNet in the UK, based in London. She has been in journalism since the last century, starting out in film journalism in San Francisco, before making the switch to tech coverage at ZDNet.com. Next came a move to CNET News.com, where she looked after west coast coverage of business technology, specialising in... Full Bio

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.