UK plans web block to slow any riots in future
Published 12/08/2011 | 05:00
The British government is planning draconian powers to shut down or disrupt mobile phone messaging services and social networks in times of civil disorder.
Downing Street sources said they were considering the "moral and technical" questions of how to grant new powers blocking all mobile communications to prevent rioters organising through websites such as Twitter and the BlackBerry Messenger service.
British Primer Minister David Cameron said "nothing should be off the table" in efforts to prevent a repeat of this week's rioting in London and cities across England. He also spoke out about how "free flow of information... can also be used for ill".
The new powers prompted politicians, social media companies and civil liberties campaigners to warn against a "knee-jerk" response which could infringe the freedom of expression and business of law-abiding web users.
Privately, senior police officers also expressed doubt that the measure would have anything more than a "marginal effect" on preventing disorder and said the real issue was the numbers of officers on the streets.
The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Hugh Orde, has also warned that "to suggest human rights get in the way of effective policing is simply wrong".
But Mr Cameron, promising yesterday to do "whatever it takes" to restore order, outlined a series of new security measures, which included:
•Consider further powers of curfew.
•Investigate using the army to free up police for "frontline" duties.
•Give individual police officers the power to force people to remove scarves, hoods or masks.
•Extend "gang injunctions" banning teenagers as well as adults from associating with each other or visiting designated areas.
The government will also consult former New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on further measures to tackle gang culture.
Mr Cameron also announced a package of financial help to firms, shops and homeowners hit by the rioting.
A £20m (€22.8m) fund will be set up to help high streets affected, while a £10m(€11.4m) recovery scheme will go towards councils to help clean up streets and improve safety.
However, significantly, Downing Street did not explicitly guarantee that all the costs of the policing operation and claims under the Riot Act would be met by the Treasury's contingency fund.
It raises the prospect that some of the money could come out of existing Home Office budgets which already face a cut of more than £2bn (€2.28bn) over the next four years. (© Independent News Service)