David Cameron said "nothing should be off the table" when it comes to preventing further riots in the UK – including draconian measures to disrupt mobile-phone services and social networks.
Downing Street sources said ministers and the security services were considering the "moral and technical" questions of how to grant new powers to block mobile communications to prevent rioters organising through, for example, Twitter or the BlackBerry Messenger service.
The suggestions come after Mr Cameron told the Commons yesterday how the "free flow of information... can also be used for ill". The prospect prompted politicians, social-media companies and civil-liberties campaigners to warn against a "knee-jerk" response which could infringe the freedom of expression of law-abiding web users.
A spokesman for the right-wing civil-liberties group Big Brother Watch said: "The fact that this is even being considered should send a chill wind through the whole country." Steve Kuncewicz, a media lawyer, said: "In terms of the websites themselves – given that they are outside UK jurisdiction – the Government is not going to be able to take any particularly strong steps."
Privately, senior police officers also expressed doubt the measure would have anything more than a "marginal effect" on preventing disorder and said the real issue was the number of officers on the streets. The President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, pictured left, also said that "to suggest human rights get in the way of effective policing is simply wrong".
But Mr Cameron is ploughing ahead with new security measures including extending "gang injunctions" to prevent certain people associating or visiting specific areas. He is also considering further powers of curfew and investigating using the army to free up police for "front-line" duties.
Meanwhile Mr Cameron said discussion about spending cuts was "tiresome". "When there are deep moral failures, we should not hit them with a wall of money," he said.Reuse content