Free speech groups react angrily to David Cameron's suggestion that social networks could be shut down to prevent further riots and looting
The Government is considering blocking social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to prevent further riots and looting.
In a statement to Parliament Prime Minister David Cameron directly linked the use of social media with the organisation of riots across England in August.
"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be struck by how they were organised via social media."
The Prime Minister said the free flow of information could be used "for good" but also "for ill", adding that "when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them."
Mr Cameron said the Government was working with the police to decide if it would be right to stop people communicating on social networks if "we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality".
Jim Killock, the executive director of the online organisation Open Rights Group said such hasty actions risked creating "unbalanced laws and abuses of our rights".
"David Cameron must be careful not to attack these fundamental needs because of concerns about the actions of a small minority.
"It may be that, in exceptional circumstances, a court may order an account to be suspended, because it is being used for criminal activity, or to harass someone," said Mr Killock.
"The coalition should resist calls for police powers or private arrangements for account suspensions," he added.
Conservative MP Louise Mensch said she saw no problem with shutting down social networks during a "major national emergency".
In a post on Twitter Louise Mensch wrote: "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."
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that monitors press freedom across the world, implored the Government not to block social networks.
"We urge the British authorities to rule out any possibility of shutting down or drastically restricting the use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter."
The organisation added that any move to suspend social-networking services could have "grave consequences" and that threats to freedom "are now real".
RIM, the company behind the Blackberry smartphones linked to some of the riots, has already said it is "engaged with the authorities" and would assist in any way it could.
A number of arrests have already been made by police forces investigating the use of social networks to incite violence.
Hampshire Police arrested three people in Southampton on the morning of 11 August for inciting violence on Twitter. The arrests were made following posts made on Twitter encouraging people to riot in Southampton.
A further three people were arrested by police in Cheshire for inciting disorder through social networks.
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