Following the shocking riots in Britain this week, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament his government is looking into whether social media services should be shut down when there's unrest.
"When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them," Cameron said. "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 Web sites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder, and criminality."
Indeed, as the country picks up the pieces and looks for culprits, Facebook, Twitter, and BlackBerry Messenger have come under heightened scrutiny as facilitators of chaos. Home Secretary Theresa May is to meet with the companies.
Britain does have legal provisions to protect against network users suspected of inciting violence, but it would require new legislation to prevent online incitement to crime in real time, according to a lawyer quoted by The Guardian.
Social networks are being used to identify rioters, and even Manchester police are using Twitter to publicize those convicted.
But are authorities justified if they try to shut down online activity, as Egypt did in January, to ward off threats?
On Thursday, operators of San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system shut down cell service to deal with a protest over a shooting by a BART Police officer. BART said its move was meant to avoid service disruptions.
The ACLU of Northern California condemned the action, saying, "Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it's halfway around the world or right here in San Francisco. You have the right to speak out. Both the California Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protect your right to free expression."
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