Political Promise

Riots Debate: Rich Cunningham

In Richard Cunningham on August 19, 2011 at 6:26 am

Rich Cunningham asks: “Are invasions of privacy necessary when trying to arrest suspects of ’inciting’ a riot?”

What remained of ‘common-sense’ seems as shattered as any pane of glass in Enfield, Croydon or central Manchester when one considers the tactics used by the Police with regards to the use of social media in tackling rioters and those believed to be ‘inciting’ a riot, is this an invasion of privacy? Or are these tactics necessary in tackling those threatening a stable society?
This question is significant in the cases of those arrested and trialled for the ‘incitement’ of a riot over Facebook and twitter, where social media and social networking becomes the battleground for control. However there is a danger that peoples comments can be misconstrued, their sense of humour misunderstood and therefore their freedoms threatened when often these are victim only of humouring their friends with what they consider as empty and private comments on the riots.

One Lancashire man was arrested and subsequently bailed for joking around with his friends when predicting a riot in his hometown.
Having read the comments myself it seems their aim was to humour friends rather than incite a riot. It seems more so that there is a distinct lack of common sense in the handling of this man’s case, when it appears that his livelihood and working life maybe severely affected by his comments. Nobody is exempt from making mistakes that is for certain and when two young children rely on their father’s income is it right that their standards of living are affected by their father’s meaningless comments?
Indeed it is without question that this joking was immature and insensitive to say the least as is recognised by the man in question when we consider the damage that could have been done if people would have taken his humour in a serious manner and used them as an excuse to start trouble, yet his comments were private amongst friends and posted with the purpose of humouring his friends only, not for causing riotous behaviour as the Police have bailed him for.
Without taking into account in what context these comments were made this man’s Facebook was watched, his comments read, his details accessed and his freedom severely threatened by his arrest and subsequent humiliation as he was named in local press and national news websites. The man in question was even mentioned on twitter in a name and shame hash-tag where comments made about him were brutally harsh without ever considering that the tactics of the Police had been at all immoral through the invasion of privacy.

Whatever opinions may be with regards to this man’s sense of humour one cannot divert from the fact that the Police acted in such a way that makes one think of ‘Big Brother’ from George Orwell’s ‘1984’ when arresting a man merely for conversing with his friends.
Criticism therefore should lie equally in the handling of these cases as much as it does with those where tenants risk eviction and those on benefits risk its removal, for in this case the freedoms of the offender are under threat of removal for no real crime.
Although the analysis of Facebook accounts may be viable in extreme cases of incitement, the criminalisation of people for empty and private comments are a useless deterrent because they only add to the growing discontent and distrust of our nation’s institutions amongst people, especially those who see rioting as the only way of getting their views recognised (If, hypothetically and perhaps optimistically we assume this is the cause for their unrest).
It is without doubt that handling cases in such an irrational manner serves only to cause more unrest and to cause more disquiet for us all by acting as a provocation for civil unrest. When freedoms are removed, unjustly it seems, we encounter a more serious question about the role of authority in our private lives.

Some may argue that these measures are necessary in ensuring the safety and security of the masses and alternatively some may argue that this type of policing is intrusive and fundamentally wrong.

Was the action taken necessary when we consider the context of the riots? Or were the actions of the Police in bailing the man in question completely justified when we consider the many lives totally disrupted and destroyed by the actions of those rioting?
What are your views?

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