In his response to the violent unrest in the UK over the past week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the government is considering whether it would be right to place limits on social media access in certain cases. While criminality and violence deserve condemnation and prosecution under the full extent of the law, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) urges the British government to consider the domestic and global ramifications for civil liberties and human rights as it develops specific proposals.

Both policymakers and technology companies must consider the global consequences of their decisions, beyond the country specific pressures of the moment.

While the first duty of a government is to protect its citizens and public safety, it should do so in ways consistent with other fundamental rights, including internationally recognized standards of freedom of expression and privacy.

A UK government response to violence that erodes legal due process or demonstrates a lack of respect for internationally recognized human rights and free speech norms could make it more difficult for Internet and telecommunications companies everywhere to resist surveillance and censorship requests of governments that infringe user rights.

Similarly, information technology companies must uphold core, universal principles on free expression and privacy to ensure their users and customers rights are protected. The GNI’s articulation of these principles, based on widely recognized international human rights standards can be found at:

The relationship between people, government and society in all its forms is increasingly mediated by information technology and online services, including online platforms, news outlets, and the networks and equipment that are at the core. This new reality creates complex challenges regarding the responsibilities of users, civil society, and governments – and in particular the social responsibilities of information and communication technology (ICT) companies. The GNI urges all actors to avoid panic and hasty actions likely to erode public trust in government and companies, and instead rise to the new challenges of the Internet age with foresight and wisdom.