Thursday, 25 August 2011

Blog, Tweet and Facebook Status Update for Your Rights

Today the British government is considering the possibility of shutting down social networking sites during times of "violence, disorder and criminality." Should the BBC also stay home? Maybe we should all close our blinds and not look outside. Definitely, we should all have to turn off our cameras and, naturally, mobile phones are off limits. I'm sure there are some autocratic regimes out there who could suggest some other ways of controlling the population.

Anyone who has read this blog before, knows that I am staunchly against this so called political protests that seemed focused on stealing designer duds and expensive electronics. However, I am also a rabid defender of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Of course, it is wrong to incite violence, but there's a grey area between political protest and incitement. Who do we want making that distinction? I am confident I don't want police and politicians making that call in the height of panic and imposing a blanket silence order on the internet. Would this little blog be banned given my first hand accounts of living in London during the riots? I hardly think it's incendiary, but it's also not a glowing endorsement of British government, policing and the establishment in general. I bet Colonel Ghaddafi would be behind the proposal.

Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin of the Metropolitan Police said last week that "the legality of that [shutting down social networking sites] is very questionable and additionally it is also a very useful intelligence asset."

David Cameron said in parliament today that he's looking into it to see if it would be "right" to shut down social media websites when they're being used to incite "violence, disorder and criminality."

This afternoon Nick Clegg told the BBC, "We're not going to become like Iran or China. We're not going to start suddenly cutting people off. As it happened thos social media sites were also quite useful for the police to communicate with people and they're also quite useful for people to communicate with each other to avoid trouble. So there's another side to the story. And we will proceed with this with great, great deal of care. We won't do anything sort of preemptive."

Spokeswoman for civil rights group Liberty even concurred saying that there's nothing to show that social networking caused the trouble, but we can see the benefits in policing & prosecuting.

What's clearly being missed by all of these people is that it's not the positive side of social media that should save it, it's the belief in freedom of speech and freedom of communication and should save it. Even if kids are out there doing damage to private property, I still have a right to write. I have a right to provide my account and you have a right to read it. We need to fight for our rights because they are our rights, not because on the whole they do more positive than negative primarily because often the true valuation of actions can only be made in hindsight. Buildings can be rebuilt, shops can be restocked, but if we forfeit our basic rights they won't be as easy to recover.

Also, I encourage everyone to listen very carefully to the politicians and decision makers. It is easy to be swept away by fear, but we must keep level heads. David Cameron is considering whether to shut down websites when they are being used to incite "violence, disorder and criminality."
Violence - OK, I'm against violence.
Criminality - Well, I want a definition of this. Does this mean if someone scrawls anti-government graffiti that David can impose a blanket ban of facebook links to a photo of it? It's criminal, but it's hardly the same as encouraging people to set a building on fire in Clapham Junction.
Disorder - I'm down with disorder. Protests are essential to a healthy democracy. I want to be able to protests decisions with which I disagree and I want to be able to post on this social media site that I strongly object to David Cameron's use of language that clearly endangers the right of the people of the United Kingdom to protest. I don't burn buildings, I don't attack people on the street, but if I march in a rally, it could probably be classed as "disorder."

So listen up. Britain has the opportunity here to be a leader and to show that it is a progressive country, but it's the responsibility of all who live here to listen to the policy makers and to make sure that they're listening to us and representing us. Don't let them spin this into something that diminishes our rights.

Meanwhile the Metropolitan Police say: Please go to our website & check our flicker account!

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