Social media firms meet UK govt for riot talks

Associated Press
FILE - In this Monday Aug. 8, 2011 file photo a masked youth pulls a burning garbage bin set on fire by rioters in Hackney, east London.   More than two weeks after the end of riots in London and other English cities, Britain's government and police met social media executives Thursday to discuss how to prevent their services from being used to plot violence. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
.

View photo

FILE - In this Monday Aug. 8, 2011 file photo a masked youth pulls a burning garbage bin set on fire by rioters in Hackney, east London. More than two weeks after the end of riots in London and other English cities, Britain's government and police met social media executives Thursday to discuss how to prevent their services from being used to plot violence. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, File)

LONDON (AP) — More than two weeks after riots, Britain's government and police met social media executives Thursday to discuss how to prevent their services from being used to plot violence.

But authorities did not seek new powers to shut down Facebook, Twitter or BlackBerry Messenger in times of crisis.

The four days of rioting, triggered by a fatal police shooting in north London's Tottenham area on Aug. 4, were the worst civil disturbances to hit Britain since the 1980s, and left a trail of looted stores, torched cars and burned-out buildings in several English cities. Five people died in the violence, including three men run down by a car as they protected stores from looters in England's second city, Birmingham.

Police and politicians claim young criminals used social media to coordinate looting sprees. Prime Minister David Cameron has said police and intelligence agents would look at whether there should be limits on the use of social media sites or services like BlackBerry Messenger, which is simple and largely cost-free, in times of disorder.

Civil libertarians have reacted with alarm to suggestions the services could be shut down.

A group of rights organizations including Amnesty International and Liberty wrote an open letter to the government before the meeting with executives of Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.

The letter said "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."

A Home Office spokeswoman said before the meeting that there was "no suggestion" the sites would be closed down.

Afterwards, the government said the discussions "looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and cooperation to crack down on the networks being used for criminal behavior."

"The government did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks," a Home Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Research In Motion called the "positive and productive," saying the company was "pleased to consult on the use of social media to engage and communicate during times of emergency."

Facebook said it already took down threats of violence and other offending material, and was working on making the process speedier.

"We look forward to meeting with the home secretary to explain the measures we have been taking to ensure that Facebook is a safe and positive platform for people in the U.K. at this challenging time," the company said in a statement.

Several people have been charged with using social media to incite riots, including two men who were jailed for four years each for using Facebook to "organize and orchestrate" disorder. The riots the two called for never happened.

A senior police officer revealed last week that the force had considered seeking approval to switch off such services like Twitter during the mayhem, but decided against it.

The acting chief of London's police force, Tim Godwin, told lawmakers that the legality of such action was "very questionable," and social networks were a useful intelligence asset.

Police used Twitter to provide information updates during the riots, and said they sent officers to protect major London shopping centers and the 2012 Olympics sites after intercepting messages on Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger saying they were targets for rioters.

The issue of curbing communications is extremely sensitive for democratic governments.

Earlier this month, transit authorities in the San Francisco area cut cell phone and wireless data service in subway stations earlier this month to disrupt plans for a protest.

The move drew unfavorable comparisons to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's attempts to cut Internet access to quell demonstrations protesting his regime.

Leaders of the San Francisco Bay Area's transit agency have since said they may adopt a policy allowing police to turn off wireless communications on train platforms — but only in extreme public safety circumstances.

View Comments (2)

Recommended for You

  • Senate fails to override Obama's veto of Keystone XL approval

    By Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate failed on Wednesday to override President Barack Obama's veto of legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, leaving the controversial project to await an administration decision on whether to permit or deny it. The Senate mustered…

    Reuters47 mins ago
  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the…

    AFP
  • France, Cameroon wouldn't take foreigner later shot by LAPD

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A homeless foreigner shot to death by Los Angeles police was in the country illegally after serving time for a bank robbery but couldn't be deported because no country would take him, U.S. immigration authorities said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • 175-Pound Pit Bull Hulk Shatters Misconceptions About the Breed

    This dog just may be the world's largest Pit Bull. Only 18-months-old, Hulk weighs a hefty 175 pounds. He's also best friends with a 3-year-old boy.

    ABC News
  • U.S. may review 1959 airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly

    (Reuters) - U.S. transportation safety investigators said on Wednesday they are reviewing a request to reopen a probe into the 1959 airplane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper," and their pilot. The original investigation 56…

    Reuters
  • Former marine reported killed in Syria

    A former Royal Marine has become the first Briton to be killed while fighting with Kurdish forces battling Islamic State jihadists in Syria, leaving his family "devastated" Wednesday. Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, died on Monday in a battle with IS militants, a source in the Kurdish People's…

    AFP
  • View

    Turkish jetliner skids off on runway (9 photos)

    A Turkish Airlines jet landing in dense fog in the Nepalese capital Wednesday skidded off a slippery runway but there were no serious injuries, officials said. Officials at Kathmandu's Tribhuwan International Airport said the plane with 238 people on board was coming from Istanbul when the…

    Yahoo News
  • NATO flotilla enters Black Sea for training amid Ukraine crisis

    A NATO flotilla arrived in the Black Sea on Wednesday to train with ships from the Bulgarian, Romanian and Turkish navies, the U.S.-led Western alliance said. Tensions in the Black Sea region are running high because of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia's annexation of the…

    Reuters
  • Killers sought in deaths of 300,000 chickens in South Carolina

    By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Revenge may be the motive for the killings in South Carolina of more than 300,000 commercial chickens worth about $1.7 million over the past two weeks, authorities said on Monday. Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken houses at…

    Reuters
  • Iranian president says Israel 'greatest danger'

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said Israel creates the "greatest danger" in the region, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against a nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In a speech on Capitol Hill, Netanyahu said Tuesday the nuclear agreement US President…

    AFP
  • Survivor testifies about 2 friends stabbed, bound, drowned

    PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A man who survived being beaten, bound, stabbed in the neck and kicked into the Schuylkill River took the stand in a hearing Tuesday and described the night his two friends lost their lives.

    Associated Press
  • Mom convicted of killing son, 5, by poisoning him with salt

    WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A woman who blogged for years about her son's constant health woes was convicted Monday of poisoning him to death by force-feeding heavy concentrations of sodium through his stomach tube.

    Associated Press
  • 'Thousands' of Russian troops in east Ukraine: US envoy

    The United States' senior envoy to Europe alleged Wednesday that Russia had deployed "thousands and thousands" of troops to neighboring Ukraine. Speaking to a congressional foreign affairs committee, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also told US lawmakers that Russia was flooding…

    AFP
  • Americans Love K-Cups, but Their Creator Regrets Inventing Them

    Now it seems that John Sylvan, the inventor of the tiny containers, is firmly on Team #KillTheKCup too. “No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recyclable,” said Sylvan.

    Takepart.com
  • Marijuana Growers Arrested After Pocket Dialing 911

    Three men in California were arrested Monday night after one of the suspects pocket dialed 911. The emergency operator who took the call heard two of the men talking about the possibility of getting pulled over, leading to a major drug bust.

    KSWB - San Diego
  • Paris Hilton brother Conrad to plead guilty to plane assault

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paris Hilton's youngest brother, Conrad, agreed to plead guilty to assaulting flight attendants on a trip from London to Los Angeles last year when authorities say he called other passengers "peasants" and threatened to kill crew members.

    Associated Press
  • Afghan forces kill dozens of militants in hostage rescue operation

    By Sarwar Amani KANDAHAR (Reuters) - Afghan security forces have killed dozens of militants in a military operation aimed at freeing a group of civilian hostages in southern Afghanistan, an army official said on Wednesday. Eyewitnesses said most passengers belonged to the ethnic Hazara minority, a…

    Reuters
  • New Honda Civic breaks Nürburgring record

    The new Honda Civic Type R hot hatchback, officially unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show on Wednesday, is now also officially the world's fastest front-wheel-drive car. As well as taking the wraps off the eagerly awaited 306bhp, 167mph (269km/h) car, Honda also revealed that in testing it had posted…

    AFP Relax News