Government backs away from plan to close social media sites during riots

 

Threats to close down Twitter and other social media during civil disturbances, raised in the heat of this month's riots, have been abandoned. The subject was not even discussed during an hour-long meeting between senior ministers, the police, and representatives of Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry yesterday.

The Government has executed a rapid climbdown after being alerted to the pitfalls of a policy put forward "in the heat of the moment". Whitehall sources privately admitted they were not now seeking any new powers to censor the internet.

One representative of social media who was at yesterday's meeting said: "The Government's position was set out right at the beginning: they are not out to shut down any social networks."

A Home Office statement said the Home Secretary, Theresa May, the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and the Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne had had a "constructive" discussion with the industry about how to prevent the networks from being used to organise criminal behaviour.

A spokesman added: "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."

That contrasted with tough words from David Cameron when the Commons held an emergency session on 11 August. He told MPs: "We are 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."

He was picking up on a suggestion made by David Lammy Labour MP for Tottenham, where the rioting began, who appealed to Research in Motion (RIM) to close down the Blackberry network overnight because it was to coordinate the riot.

The Tory MP Louise Mensch later went on Twitter to argue the same case. She tweeted: "I don't have a problem with a brief temporary shutdown of social media.... We'd all survive if Twitter shut down for a short while during major riots."

But the idea ran into opposition both from civil rights groups and from the police. London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, said that the Metropolitan police had found Twitter and other media useful in gleaning intelligence about the rioters' intentions.

Ten civil rights groups sent an open letter to the Home Secretary yesterday warning that an idea raised "in good faith but in the heat of the moment" could lead to the abuse of "legitimate free communication."

Representatives of social media were careful not to gloat as they came away from their hour-long round table discussion, aware that public opinion was not wholly on their side.

A survey of 2,000 people, carried out by marketing agency MBA, found that 50 per cent would be in favour of a temporary shut down, despite more than a third saying they used social media as the primary news source on this month's riots.

Yesterday, RIM launched a new service that allows users of Blackberry Messenger to share music, to help shake off its reputation as a communication tool for rioters.

Rachel Bremer, a spokeswoman for Twitter, said: "Governments and law enforcement agencies around the world use Twitter to engage in open, public communications with citizens. We are always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need."

A Facebook spokesman said: "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."

Riots in brief

* Scotland Yard has warned fugitive rioters that it is "far from finished" as the force confirmed that more than 2,000 suspects had been arrested over the capital's disturbances. Scotland Yard's Operation Withern team has recorded a total of 3,443 crimes across the capital linked to the disorder, and of 2,006 people detained by officers over the violence that swept through London earlier this month, 1,135 have been charged. So far 954 cases have appeared in court, with 82 people sentenced and 42 jailed. Police have now published pictures of those given significant custodial sentences on Flickr.

* Petrol bombs were thrown at a marked police van on Wednesday night as it patrolled Edmonton, part of the north London borough of Enfield which was hit by this month's riots. No damage or injuries were sustained.

* A looter who took one lick of an ice cream before giving it away during the riots in Manchester has been jailed for 16 months. Anderson Fernandes, 21, took a cone and two scoops of coffee ice cream from a branch of Patisserie Valerie after finding the door ajar, but gave it to a passing woman as he did not like the flavour. The court heard that Fernandes had appeared in court earlier that day charged with possessing drugs and an offensive weapon.

* A former Deputy Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police has attacked the tactics used by police during the riots in Tottenham, an area where he previously served as a senior officer. "There was a disgraceful absence of visible leadership, and that should be shaming for the Metropolitan Police," David Gilbertson told the BBC. "With rank comes responsibility, and part of the responsibility is visible command. And secondly, there didn't appear to be a strategy."

* The 140-year-old furniture shop in the south London borough of Croydon that was destroyed in a spectacular blaze lit by rioters has re-opened in smaller premises just 20 yards down the road. The firm's director, Trevor Reeves, said he was "staggered" by the help received from the local community, as well as his 80-year-old father, Maurice.

News
Brand said he
people
Sport
Adam Lallana, Juan Cala, Andy Carroll and Cameron Jerome
sportThe latest news and scores
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on TV
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Sport
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain drives in the rain during the qualifying session of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai
sport
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
peopleOrlando Bloom the pin-up hero is making a fresh start
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
The North Korean TV advert for Taedonggang beer, that became a YouTube hit
food + drinkAnd what did it take to set up a taste test back in Wiltshire?
Arts & Entertainment
filmLife for Leslie Mann's can be challenging sometimes
Voices
For music lovers: John Cusack with his vinyl collection in 'High Fidelity'
voices...but don't forget rest of the year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit