Striking a Balance: Communication Censorship v. Cyber Security

As rioting spread across England this August, Prime Minister David Cameron suggested granting authorities the power to interfere with mobile phone service and social media networking at times of civil unrest.  Now Cameron and other British government representatives urge against the same notion with the Prime Minister stating that cyber security cannot be an excuse for censorship of the internet, even during civil unrest.  These sentiments were expressed at an international cyber security conference and are in direct opposition with the China and Russia’s position urging more stringent internet regulation through binding international treaties.  Vice President Joe Biden voiced his concerns regarding such legislation and stated that the United States would oppose exclusive government control over the Internet.

The conference was called in light of an increase in cyber attacks against the governments and businesses of several nations.  The British government estimates that the costs of fighting cyber crime approach $43 million a year.  Cameron conceded that governments cannot allow terrorists and criminals to access cyberspace and continuously endanger the security of nations but asserted that government suppression of the internet is unacceptable.  How should a balance be struck between these competing concerns?

In the aftermath of the riots in England and the British government’s serious consideration of implementing regulation of such networks, civil liberty groups caution that Western governments need to be prepared to follow whatever standard is ultimately reached.  Index of Censorship’s John Kampfner suggested in the article, that it is easy to point a finger at dictatorships censoring their citizens, but when Western state stability is at risk “freedom of expression is expendable.”  Kampfner urges that one rule should be followed by all governments.

How can governments regulate the internet, cell phone services, and social media to protect against criminals and terrorists while protecting the freedom of their citizens?  Is it realistic to expect to achieve such a balance?  Should citizens give up some freedoms associated with the internet, cell phones, and social networking?

Do you agree with Kampfner?  Are Western governments likely to violate international cyber security laws in the face of civil unrest?  Is the British government’s near implementation of the idea evidence of Kampfner’s concern or should we believe the British government’s more recent attitude towards the situation?

3 comments

  1. It has been very interesting to see how in recent years social media has been used to play a role in organizing political movements. I got to see it first hand, well at least as first hand as one can see the internet, the organizing of a protest march in NYC over facebook and other social media sites. My cousin in law organized the march as a sort of satellite to the occupy wall street movement. A few things were posted, it was all passed around to friends and friends of friends through social media and then in a matter of hours there were hundreds of people lining Broadway for the march to Columbus Circle. There were the police out in full force as well. And all of this had happened through facebook. I was amazed. For more on this march see – http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/22/pete-seeger-leads-protesters-on-foot-and-in-song/?scp=1&sq=seeger%20march&st=cse
    This, although an impressive crowd drawn together via social media was not the type of assemblage that the government officials are particularly fearful of. Despite the power that social media and cell phones have as organizing tools I think that there is a real danger of shutting down communication systems in times of upheaval making it so that family members cant call their loved ones to say they are OK or to make sure their kids are safe at school. People rely on these modes of communications so much today I think it would be even more dangerous to cut people off from them than to deal with the up rises as they come.

  2. The internet is a channel for free speech and free communication. As such, government should no more restrict it than they should newspapers or demonstrations in public parks. The British government – specifically PM Cameron – likely reversed his position on internet regulation after his suggestion of internet censorship resulted in public outcry. It would be foolhardy of western governments to suppress internet free speech in order to thwart civil disobedience. Doing so will only exacerbate discontent among dissidents.

  3. I agree that the Internet is a channel for free speech and in countries like the United States the benefit of free speech and communication usually outweighs it’s suppression. Clearly, not all matters of national security are in the public arena. Instead, the US government can place certain matters and information under seal and label them confidential. Therefore, is it really a matter of national or international security for governments to interfere with social media networking?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.