I predict a riot
The Prime Minister David Cameron gave his formal response to the rioting and subsequent looting that has afflicted much of the UK for the past few days. There was the usual posturing about how these things won't be tolerated but, as ever, the devil was in the detail.
Apparently the feral youths in question used, not only BlackBerry Messenger - which has received a lot of adverse publicity for aiding criminals in coordinating their activities, but social networking to communicate with each other. Well, there is a clue in the name.
Technology is just a tool, and thus can be used for bad as well as good, but when it's misused there are often calls to ban, or at least limit it. Here are some selected transcripts from the PM's speech today.
Keeping people safe is the first duty of government.
We are making technology work for us, by capturing the images of the perpetrators on CCTV - so even if they haven't yet been arrested, their faces are known and they will not escape the law.
And as I said yesterday, no phoney human rights concerns about publishing these photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice.
Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media.
Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.
And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.
So 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.
I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers.
A few of those statements raise concerns about broader civil liberties being curtailed in the name of keeping people safe.
- "Phoney human rights concerns". As opposed to legitimate ones? Do concerns become phoney as and when the government decides?
- "Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill." Seems to be setting the scene for selective censorship.
- "...stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality." Where does this power begin and end? Is it the thin end of the wedge? Dare we say thought crime?
- "I have also asked the police if they need any other new powers." Speaks for itself.
If technology can be used to assist in the prevention or crimes or punishment of perpetrators, that's potentially a positive thing. But with people already being arrested for misusing social media, we should also be careful to ensure the cure isn't worse than the illness.