UK backs down on social media ban

Summary:The UK government has backed down on plans to restrict or limit social media use in "times of crisis", in a meeting responding to England riots earlier this month.

As reported last week, representatives both Facebook and Twitter, along with BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, have attended high-level talks with the UK government to discuss the recent England riots.

In a statement made by the Home Office:

"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."

The government resoundingly backed down over plans to block or restrict social media access during times of civil unrest, disorder or rioting -- after all sides dismissed the plans, in an hour long meting at the Home Office.

The UK government is not seeking any additional powers to close down social media networks, a Home Office spokesperson said.

Discussions focused on how Twitter and Facebook could be utilised by law enforcement officials during widespread disorder and day-to-day operations.

Facebook and Twitter both went into the meetings opposed to blocks on social media sites -- offering "no concessions" in the meeting today.

However, as Facebook, Twitter and Research in Motion have a presence in the United Kingdom, they are obliged to operate under British law. This includes measures to assist law enforcement "wherever possible".

This could result in the BlackBerry maker handing over encryption keys to its secure BlackBerry Messenger service, which was used by rioters to perpetuate riots.

British intelligence services, MI5 and GCHQ, have reportedly been brought in to crack the encryption keys.

Earlier this month, British prime minister David Cameron had expressed considerations in switching off social networks amid the potential for further riots. Twitter, however, had stated that "the tweets must flow" -- resonating the same message during the Arab spring uprising.

Leading civil rights groups Amnesty International and Index on Censorship, have written to the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, to express concern about the clampdown on social media sites that the government recently considered.

Research in Motion, which attended the meeting with chief police officers from across England, the Home Secretary, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and representatives from the Foreign Office, said in a statement that the meeting was "positive and productive".

The Guardian report that governments and law enforcement agencies "use Twitter to engage in open, public communications with citizens", adding that the micro-blogging service is "always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need".

Related content:

Topics: Government : US, BlackBerry, Government, Networking, Social Enterprise

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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