Rights groups warn against riot message restrictions
Ten human rights groups have written to Home Secretary Theresa May, calling for restraint over the way the Government restricts communications in the wake of the recent riots in the UK.
According to the groups – including Amnesty UK, Liberty, and Privacy International – the Government could overreact to fears that rioters used social networks to organise looting and other criminal behaviour.
The warning comes as the Government is due to meet today with officials from Twitter, Facebook and Research in Motion to discuss how to handle any repeat of the disorder in future, as proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron.
A Home Office spokesperson said the meeting would centre on “whether and how we should be able to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”, according to the BBC.
Turning off, restricting or monitoring people’s communications networks are matters that require extreme care and open, detailed deliberation
But the behind-closed-doors meeting has worried human rights campaigners, who are concerned that a political reaction to the issue could lead to a heavy-handed response.
“Turning off, restricting or monitoring people’s communications networks are matters that require extreme care and open, detailed deliberation,” the groups wrote in an open letter to May.
”We are very concerned that new measures, made in good faith but in a heated political environment, will overextend powers in ways that would be susceptible to abuse, restrict legitimate, free communication and expression and undermine people’s privacy,” the letter said.
“This is especially so if proposals involve unaccountable voluntary arrangements between law enforcement and communications providers.”
Laws already in place
The campaigners also claimed that there were existing laws – such as RIPA – which could be used to fulfil the Government’s aims, but accepted the existing framework may need to be adapted to accommodate newer technology.
“There is existing legislation regulating the interception and disclosure of communications information, the use of communications evidence by law enforcement and restrictions on people’s use of communications technology,” the groups said.
“It is reasonable to review the existing legal regime to ensure that it appropriately fits new technologies.”