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article imageHuman rights groups uneasy about Cameron's riot crackdown

By Abigail Prendergast     Aug 14, 2011 in Politics
London - The sense of turbulence and unrest in England is potentially going to be met with what several rights groups percieve as heavy-handed. Prime Minister David Cameron's proposed tactics are not ringing well with everybody and groups have begun to speak out.
The state of unrest in London and other English cities has Prime Minister David Cameron resorting to extreme, and sometimes unorthodox, measures in attempt to curb the violence.
Rioters are being expelled from state-subsidized homes, men who wear hoods are having their faces forcefully unveiled and there is a demand for phone networks to cut off access to social networking sites during this time of turbulence.
Said to be "reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s uncompromising stance against civil unrest" to some, others are giving the conservative Cameron the upmost praise for his efforts.
Flashbacks of Tony Blair's response to the September 11, 2001 attacks are being relived with Cameron's answer to the rioting and violence. Blair went to lengths, which according to the Associated Press, "coroded civil liberties and fueled mistrust of authority among young muslims."
"The events of the past few days have understandably led to calls for tough new measures," said Isabella Sankey of Liberty. "But knee-jerk powers... could cause more problems than they solve."
Cameron has also vowed to hand over sweeping powers to police, local authorities and courts during these turbulent times. He gave warning to looters that they could face water cannons, dye sprays and even British military forces on the streets if need be.
"The fight-back has well and truly begun," exclaimed Cameron at an emergency session of Parliament on Thursday.
Under what is one of the most quarrelsome plans, the English government will take into consideration easier incentive for eviction of convicts from homes subsidized by taxpayers. At this point and time, authorities can only resort to such measures when those who commit crimes do so in their own neighborhoods. The current eviction rate is 3,000 out of Britain's 8 million public housing tenants every year. If and when the plans are approved, the location of a person's offense(s) will be irrelevant.
"[It] may sound a little harsh, but i just don't think it's time to pussyfoot around," Eric Pickles told BBC television regarding the potential of many people ending up homeless. "They've done their best to destory neighborhoods. Frankly, I don't feel sympathetic towards them."
Additionally, Cameron has promised he would discuss whether police should be permitted tougher abilities to break crowds up, or impose curfews on troubled areas at night.
Upon the change of the law, any police officer will be able to order people to remove hoods, masks, caps and possibly even an Islamic niqab or burqa if there is suspicion of concealing identity and plotting a crime. Right now a senior officer is required to allow usage of such a tactic.
The most controversial move by the Cameron, however, would be government, spy agencies and the communications industry discussing if it would be necessary to disrupt cell phone, messaging and social networking services during this time of violence and unrest.
"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," said Cameron.
His coalition which is Conservative-led took office back in May of 2010 and has received praise for overturning some of the nation’s most repressive legislation when it came to anti-terrorism measures. A program where people could be held under virtual house arrest - even though they have never committed an act of terrorism - has been overhauled by ministers.
A national identity card program which proved greatly unpopular was junked along with more restrictions for DNA profile retention and spreading of closed-circuit TV cameras.
"The coalition has done great work in rolling back some of the most draconian laws imposed under Tony Blair, we have to hope David Cameron's administration doesn't now fall into the same traps," said Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch.
Young transgressors are alleged to have utilized instant messaging via Blackberry smartphones and Twitter during the recent riots according to police. The messages were said to be sent back and forth between criminals to plan out looting sprees during the riots which ran from Saturday to Tuesday.
The speedy nature of the aforementioned forms of communication has allowed the youthful crooks to "stay one step ahead of the police" according to Home Secretary Theresa May.
As such Cameron’s office stated that the government will be in talks as whether mobile phone services could be disrupted during riots, if social networks could have blackouts imposed on them, or if such websites would possibly agree to take down potentially violence-inciting photos.
Social Networking giants Facebook, Twitter and Research In Motion Ltd. (a manufacturer for Blackberry) are to be involved in the discussion with Britain’s Home Office in order to talk about the government’s concerns.
The suggestions are not without controversy and imposed curbs on social media would be "a spectacularly revealing moment for First World regimes," according to Egyptian pro-democracy leader, Mahmoud Salem. Padraig Reidy, of Index on Censorship said “Cameron must not allow legitimate anger over the recent riots and looting in the U.K. to be used in an attack on free expression and free information.”
Despite the apparent aggressive nature of Cameron’s proposed tactics, the Prime Minister has also vowed to adopt community-based programs utilized in the U.S. that have reduced gang violence with a more sensitive style of operation.
The approach, currently used in Boston and a few other cities in America, has law enforcement, social services and victims of crimes sit down and discuss with those who commit transgressions. The tactic has already been adopted in Scotland has seen effective results.
Britain shouldn’t hope to curb or crack violence commenced by the youth via “halt unrest with heavy-handed tactics,” said U.S. gang violence advisor, David Kennedy.
"That's absolutely the script that the United States followed for decades, and the results are always the same,” added Kennedy - who directs the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “You don't get the public safety and crime control that you desired, and you run the risk of alienating the very communities that you are trying to protect.”
More about England, David Cameron, Crackdown
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