There are welcome signs that Downing Street and the Home Office have regained their democratic balance after apparently losing it in the immediate aftermath of London's and other city's recent riots. On Thursday the Home Secretary, Theresa May, held a meeting with representatives of social networking websites and members of the Association of Chief Police Officers; there was general relief when she began the meeting by saying that the government no longer had any intention of restricting internet services during riots or in other situations when trouble-makers might be using them, and instead wanted to discuss how Twitter and Facebook could be used constructively by the security services in emergencies. Her approach was very different from David Cameron's two weeks ago when he told the House of Commons:We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating with these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.
Fortunately, someone must have told the prime minister that it would not be right to close down networks, indeed it would be counter-productive to do so because intelligently used they can be a vital source of information. Perhaps someone also whispered to him that to put them out of use would make Britain look rather like an authoritarian goverment in the Middle East.