Twitter, Facebook and RIM 'look forward' to riots talks

Twitter, Facebook and RIM have said they welcome the chance to discuss the government's idea of blocking access to social networks and messaging services when riots occur

Facebook, Twitter and Research In Motion have said they welcome their forthcoming meeting with the government, which has said it wants to know whether social media can be shut down when riots strike.

London riot burnt-out car

Facebook, Twitter and Research In Motion have said they are willing to talk to the government about the use of social media during the riots in London and the UK that started on Saturday. Photo credit: Nicobobinus/Flickr

Prime minister David Cameron said on Thursday that the London riots had been "organised via social media", adding that the government was "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".

"When people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them," Cameron said.

RIM, Facebook and Twitter are to meet home secretary Theresa May next week to discuss the issue. In a statement on Thursday, RIM — whose encrypted BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service was allegedly used to organise looting — said it welcomed the "opportunity for consultation".

"RIM continues to comply with both UK privacy laws as well as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which are of course the same laws that apply to other technology and telecommunications companies in the UK," the company said.

Facebook said it looked forward to meeting with May "to explain the measures we have been taking to ensure that Facebook is a safe and positive platform for people in the UK at this challenging time".

"In recent days we have ensured any credible threats of violence are removed from Facebook and we have been pleased to see the very positive uses millions of people have been making of our service to let friends and family know they are safe and to strengthen their communities," the market-leading social networking firm said.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Twitter said it was "happy to talk" to the home secretary.

Cameron's idea of blocking access to social networks in times of unrest is too risky, according to Open Rights Group executive director Jim Killock.

Innocent people should not be punished for the actions of others.

– Jim Killock, Open Rights Group

"We do not believe this should be given any serious consideration," Killock wrote in reference to the idea of a blanket service suspension. "Clearly, a service will be used by people for legitimate activities, some of which will in fact be to mitigate or deal with the problem encountered. In any case, innocent people should not be punished for the actions of others."

Even if a specific user were to be blocked from social networks, Killock argued, the police should not be able to arrange such suspensions privately with the social-networking firms. Such powers "represent the worst type of so-called 'self-regulation' and could quickly lead to abuses", Killock said, adding that the courts should be involved in any suspension decision.

Killock also noted that "new measures to remove web freedoms of any sort will quickly be seized upon by oppressive governments to justify their own actions".

"The UK should not be using the same methods as governments in China, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia," he added.

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