As Londoners continue to pick up the rubble and carnage from this week's riots, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is exploring new ways to maintain order -- including, apparently, a government crackdown on social media. In a speech to members of Parliament today, Cameron made clear his belief that law enforcement officials should be able to curb and monitor the use of social networking sites under certain circumstances, lending credence to the theory that mechanisms like Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry played a critical role in inciting the recent violence:
"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."
There's a fine line separating issues of national security from the rights to free speech, but it's a line that Cameron seems willing to toe. And, though he and his Conservative government are only mulling the idea, it's difficult to ignore the irony in his statements. Keep in mind that this is the same man who roundly condemned Hosni Mubarak for shutting down Egypt's internet at the height of its revolution, calling for the now-ousted leader to fully respect the "freedom of expression and communication, including use of telephones and the internet." Cameron, of course, isn't calling for anything nearly as drastic as what Mubarak orchestrated, nor is he facing anywhere near the same level of domestic turmoil. But the fundamental narrative remains the same: in the face of social upheaval, a national leader instinctively reaches for a digital muzzle as a stop-gap measure, while (perhaps) ignoring the larger, longer-term ramifications of his actions. Fortunately for the UK, though, Cameron is already doing one thing that Mubarak apparently never did -- he's thinking about right and wrong. Head past the break to see Cameron's speech, in its entirety.