Following discussion on whether or not social media was “responsible” for the recent riots and looting in the United Kingdom, the British Government is looking at ways to reduce the likelihood of social media being used to organize riots or violent protest again.
Officials are considering both banning specific users from sites like Twitter or Facebook if they’re being believed to be plotting criminal activity or, much more extremely, empowering the police to essentially close social media access in the U.K. during times of emergency.
Clearly, that latter choice seems both insane and unworkable, considering not only the work involved to create a successful way to block the different methods of accessing something like Twitter even temporarily, but also the positive effects that social media can have during emergencies. See, for example, the Keep Calm and Clean Up crowdsourcing that happened this week in London.
But it seems that British Prime Minister David Cameron is serious about the first option, according to this recent statement:
“Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck 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, 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.”
These potential new powers are part of Cameron’s pledge to do “whatever it takes” to restore order to British streets following the past five nights of rioting. Cameron has, unsurprisingly, come under fire from free speech proponents for his suggestions, with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group saying, “David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority.”
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.