The Privacy BlogPrivacy, Security, Cryptography, and Anonymity

Aug/11

13

PM David Cameron on censorship: bad when you do it, OK when I do it.

Back in February, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech where he strongly opposed the censorship and crack down on protesters in Egypt.

For decades, some have argued that stability required highly controlling regimes, and that reform and openness would put that stability at risk. So, the argument went, countries like Britain faced a choice between our interests and our values. And to be honest, we should acknowledge that sometimes we have made such calculations in the past. But I say that is a false choice.
As recent events have confirmed, denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability, rather the reverse. Our interests lie in upholding our values – in insisting on the right to peaceful protest, in freedom of speech and the internet, in freedom of assembly and the rule of law. But these are not just our values, but the entitlement of people everywhere; of people in Tahrir Square as much as Trafalgar Square.

Now, with the riots in England he feels that restricting access to social media, and censoring free speech is necessary to maintain order.

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. Police were facing a new circumstance where rioters were using the BlackBerry Messenger service, a closed network, to organise riots. We’ve got to examine that and work out how to get ahead of them.

It is easy to condemn censorship in others, but it seems expedient when one is trying to control one’s own population. When in power, the difference between justifiable actions and tyranny is largely a matter of “us” vs “them”. “We” are good and would not abuse this power while “they” use censorship to keep the boot of oppression on their people.

The trouble is, it is very hard to know when one has moved past the tipping point, and powerful self justification comes easily to intelligent leaders and their advisors. As has been said many times “no man is the villein of his own story”.

This is a Rubicon I hope the UK can hold back from crossing.

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