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?