London police mulled shutting down Twitter

Aug. 17, 2011 at 5:11 PM
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LONDON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Police considered shutting down the Twitter microblogging service at the height of London's mayhem but lacked the power, the city's top police officer said.

Scotland Yard officials, including Metropolitan Police Service Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin, discussed shutting down the social-networking Web site "a few times" as rumors about further rioting spread, Godwin told the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Tuesday.

After learning police had no legal power to shut it down, Godwin raised the subject with the government, which led to discussions that are continuing about changing the law, he said.

"I contemplated seeking the authority to switch it off," The Daily Telegraph quoted Godwin as saying. "The legality of that is very questionable. We did not request that it was turned off, but it is something we are pursuing as part of our investigative strategy."

Meanwhile, Godwin praised his officers for their response to the riots, which spread to other British cities and led to 1,000 suspects being charged, the BBC reported

He lauded officers' for gathering evidence that led to the charges.

The police force said it hopes to get 3,000 convictions stemming from the rioting.

London Mayor Boris Johnson called the statistics "testament not only to [the police force's] dedication, but also to the outstanding support they have had from law-abiding Londoners who will not tolerate this behavior in their communities."

The British broadcaster said 500 police officers have gathered 20,000 hours of footage from the riots, while forensic officers made more than 300 submissions to labs from more than 1,100 crime scenes.

Police said much of the disorder during five nights of widespread rioting, protesting, looting and arson in London was orchestrated on sites such as Twitter.

BlackBerry Messenger was also used by youths planning riots, police said. The instant text messaging system cannot easily be monitored by police, but police were able to monitor some messages by seizing smartphones from people arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit public order offenses, Godwin testified.

Conservative Member of Parliament Louise Mensch called last week for sites such as Twitter and Facebook to be shut down during riots.

"If in a major national emergency police think Twitter and FB should take an hour off, so be it," she said.

"I don't have a problem with a brief temporary shutdown of social media, just as I don't have a problem with a brief road or rail closure. If short, necessary and only used in an emergency, so what? We'd all survive if Twitter shut down for a short while during major riots."

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