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UK may block Twitter, Facebook to help stop future riots


The British government is considering banning access to social networks like Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger for people suspected to be conspiring to commit criminal activity, reports the Guardian. The potential plan, which is intended to help quell future riots, comes after social networks facilitated the rapid spread of destructive civil unrest that rocked London and other cities for much of this week.

News of the plan comes straight from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who reportedly informed parliament of possible free speech-blocking strategy. Cameron said that the government is currently investigating ways to stop rioters from inciting destruction over these networks.

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As part of this plan, Cameron announced that the UK’s home secretary, Theresa May, will have meetings with Facebook, Twitter and Research In Motion (RIM) to discuss their roles and responsibilities in the riots. Cameron also indicated that news organizations, including the BBC and Sky News, should hand over any unused footage of the riots to help bring looters and other rioters to justice.

“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,” said Cameron.

“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.”

UK law-enforcement authorities have also used social networks to further their goals. Scotland Yard set up a Flickr page with CCTV images of suspected looters in an attempt to identify the individuals. A number of private citizens also set up websites to help catch looters. In addition, British authorities used Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger to arrest a number of individuals who were found to be using the services to incite violence, riots and other criminal activity.

More than Twitter and Facebook, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is thought to have played a major role in the initial spread of destruction. BBM is a private social network that is only accessible to BlackBerry users. The messages that are sent over BBM are most often encrypted to a point where even RIM can’t decode what the messages say.

Because of its role in the riots, Canada-based RIM agreed to cooperate with Scotland Yard’s investigation, which quickly resulted in one of their BlackBerry blogs being hacked, and employees threatened.

Cameron’s plan to ban citizens from using social networks to express themselves has been met with expected opposition from civil liberties groups.

“Events like the recent riots are frequently used to attack civil liberties. Policing should be targeted at actual offenders, with the proper protection of the courts,” said Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group.

“How do people ‘know’ when someone is planning to riot? Who makes that judgment? The only realistic answer is the courts must judge. If court procedures are not used, then we will quickly see abuses by private companies and police.Companies like RIM must insist on court processes.

“Citizens also have the right to secure communications. Business, politics and free speech relies on security and privacy. David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority.”

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London riots: Police use Flickr to help catch looters

After three nights of devastating riots, the law-abiding citizens of London have begun to fight back against the ruinous hoard. While Twitter and Facebook have played massive roles in the clean-up effort, which started in earnest early this morning, social media and a variety of other websites have also become invaluable tools in the hunt for looters, arsonists and vandals.
On the official side, London's Metropolitan Police have created a Flickr page, entitled "London Disorder - Operation Withern," which includes the "first of many" CCTV images of rioters suspected of looting, committing violence and other criminal acts. Police hope the public can help identify the alleged criminals and bring them into custody.
"Operation Withern's priority is to bring to justice those who have committed violent and criminal acts," says the Flickr page. "As the detailed and thorough investigation progresses we will be issuing photographs of suspects, like those of alleged looters we are releasing today (Tuesday 9 August). These CCTV images are from incidents of looting in Croydon over last night and in Norwood Road SE27 in the early hours of this morning."
Police ask that anyone with information about the suspected looters contact the Major Investigation Team via telephone (020 8345 4142), or report illegal activity anonymously by calling 0800 555 111.
In addition to special telephone lines, Metropolitan Police also launched the Twitter hashtag #tweetalooter, which they urge citizens to use if they have information about rioters or criminal acts. Twitter users are posting their own photos of looters, the usernames of known looters, as well as incriminating evidence, like screenshots of other Twitter users who have foolishly admitted to stealing good during the riots in online posts.
Police aren't the only ones setting up websites to help catch looters. A Tumblr blog, dubbed Catch A Looter, has been set up by an anonymous do-gooder. The site includes photos of rioters and looters, links to the Operation Withern Flickr page, and other police contact data. It is not known whether the Tumblog has any official ties to the authorities.
A similar website,, has also been set up for similar purposes, and allows visitors to upload their own images of suspected rioters, or identify rioters from already uploaded photos. The website has been consistently down or loading extremely slowly, due to overwhelming traffic to its servers.
If anyone knows of other web resources being used to help restore order in London, let us know in the comments and we'll update this article with the new information. Check the Guardian's riot liveblog to stay up-to-date on the latest news out of London.

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Twitter, Facebook aiding London clean-up
London riots

It seems to be the case these days that with any large scale protests or rioting, Twitter and Facebook are involved. It's no slight to them, there are simply no other more effective alternatives for organizing huge groups of people.
So with London burning, it comes as no surprise that the two social media giants are being put to use, but there's a twist: today, users are using the network to organize massive clean-up efforts to help restore their city.
According to the BBC, a Twitter account called @riotcleanup "attracted more than 18,000 followers in a matter of hours and was helping people to co-ordinate efforts." The account had over 62,300 followers as of 8 AM in New York. Users are also posting information, organizing meet-ups and requesting clean-up help under the hashtag #riotscleanup.
The efforts will go a long way towards getting rid of the debris and garbage left behind by the riots, although it's just a start towards repairing what the Association of British Insurers said may be tens of millions of British pounds worth of damage.
At the same time, a Facebook page called "Supporting the Met Police against the London rioters" currently has about 505,000 likes. Comments cover every emotion incuding supportive ("‎16000 police out tonight in London. Good job, stay safe, thanks."), depressed ("With the riots, the wars, the poverty, everything. Makes me sad to even be human"), vindictive ("Bring out the big guns. water canons, rubber bullets, tear gas the whole hog and get these idiots off our streets. show them no mercy. they didn't show that poor man who died any") and vaguely presidential ("parents and family members of these troublemakers but know what they are up to, and even if they are not involved, to keep silent makes them just as guilty, so get out there people, shop a thug and lets take britain back and have a better England!").
Most of the social media efforts right now seem to be focused on local clean-up, so if you're in London, feel free to offer help or ask for it. For those elsewhere, sharing the various sources of information might just help some Londoners get their neighborhoods looking normal again.

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UK up in arms over Twitter’s role in court case privacy laws

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is calling on British courts to examine the role Twitter is playing when it comes to privacy laws. According to the Telegraph, after the identity of a celebrity football player tied to a controversial British court case made the Twitter-rounds, advocates and industry officials are claiming that social media is unfairly distributing barred information. UK newspapers and print media are under a court “super-injunction” not to reveal the player’s identity, but social networking sites do not directly fall under this ruling.

Cameron made an appearance on local talk show Daybreak to discuss the issue. “What I’ve said in the past is the danger is that judgments are effectively writing a new law, which is what Parliament is meant to do. So I think the government – Parliament – has got to take some time out, have a proper look at this, have a think about what we can do. But I’m not sure there is going to be a simple answer.”

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