Government backs down on plan to shut Twitter and Facebook in crises | Media | guardian.co.uk

The government has climbed down on plans to ban suspected rioters from social networking websites including Facebook and Twitter in times of civil unrest.

Unprecedented measures such as shutting down websites and banning users are understood to have been dismissed by all sides early at a Home Office summit between the home secretary, Theresa May, and the major social networks on Thursday afternoon.

The one-hour discussion focused on how law enforcement can better use Twitter and Facebook as part of day-to-day operations as well as in emergencies.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The home secretary, along with the culture secretary and Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne, has held a constructive meeting withthe Association of Chief Police Officers, the police and representatives from the social media industry.

"The discussions looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and co-operation to prevent the networks being used for criminal behaviour."

The notion of banning suspected rioters from social networks was first raised by David Cameron a fortnight ago when he vowed to do "whatever it takes" to prevent a repeat of the unprecedent riots and looting across England.

The prime minister announced that the social networks, including BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion, had been summoned to a Home Office meeting when responding to questions from MPs in the Commons.

A Twitter spokeswoman said: "Governments and law enforcement agencies around the world use Twitter to engage in open, public communications with citizens.

"We've heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumours in times of crisis or emergency.

"People also use Twitter as the first place to get information, monitor quickly changing events in real-time, and connect with friends, family and their communities.

"We are always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need."

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