Saturday, 13 August 2011

UK: Walking in Egypt’s shoes

by Nour Rida, Moqawama

Not long ago, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron was praising revolutions which used social networking in Egypt and Tunisia.Today, the British PM is using social media as a scapegoat. Only a few months after Egypt’s revolution and the avalanches of Western criticism that showered the Egyptian regime for using violence against the protesters and for banning the internet and new media, Cameron is walking in Egypt’s shoes.

Only a few days after the unrest in the UK, Cameron said his government may block social media, as police have arrested over 1,700 rioters across the United Kingdom. Among those arrested and charged were a teaching assistant, a charity worker and an 11-year-old boy.

In a speech at the House of Common, David Cameron said on Thursday he was considering all options to control the riots, including deployment of army and restricting social media, like Twitter and BlackBerry.

“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”, said Cameron.

British-PoliceHe added that 16,000 officers would remain in London streets through the weekend and that “whatever resources the police need, they will get. Whatever tactics the police feel they need to employ, they have legal backing to do it.”

At the time the British government considers banning new media, the police, meanwhile, are making use of London’s intricate surveillance system to identify suspected “rioters”. Officials have set up a Flickr account on which they are posting screen grabs from those videos and asking people to turn in anyone they might know.

Cameron dismissed the idea that the posting of such photos was a violation of peoples’ privacy.
The British PM promised to arrest everyone related to the recent violence in the country, saying: “We are making technology work for us, by capturing the images of the perpetrators on CCTV – so even if they haven’t yet been arrested, their faces are known and they will not escape the law.”

“No phony human rights concerns about publishing photographs will get in the way of bringing these criminals to justice,” he said.

Cameron, also on exploring curbs on the use of social media tools if these were being used to plot “violence, disorder and criminality” as he claims, has already authorized police to use baton rounds and water cannon where necessary.

Also, a curfew may ban people from the streets at night, and the Army could take over guard duties to free police to tackle those running rampage.

Shutting down social media, of course, was a favorite tactic of Middle Eastern despots throughout the Arab Spring – one which was routinely condemned by the Western world.

On the other hand, the number of people killed during massive unrest across England has climbed as a 68-year-old retired man died in hospital on Thursday night.

Richard Mannington Bowes, who went in a coma after being attacked by an angry crowd in Ealing during Monday’s violence, died late Thursday night, prompting detectives to launch a murder inquiry.
His death came only after the suspicious death of three Muslim men that were run down by a car when trying to protect their fellow community members during the persisting unrest in Birmingham, and the murder of a 26-year-old man that was shot in a car in Croydon.

Jim Killock, the executive director of online advocacy organization Open Rights Group, said Cameron risked attacking the “fundamental” right of free speech. “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,” Killock added.

“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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