By Claire Zillman
June 5, 2017

In responding to the Saturday night terrorist attack in London that left seven dead and 48 injured, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for tighter controls on online communication:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the Internet, and the big companies that provide Internet-based services, provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

Even in the wake of the third such tragedy in the U.K. in as many months, some technologists were outraged by May’s comments—which added to her government’s record of anti-privacy declarations—arguing that her proposal is at fundamental odds with the spirit of the Internet.

As Fortune‘s David Z. Morris reports, author and BoingBoing co-editor Cory Doctorow was one of the commenters who eviscerated May’s remarks as a “classic piece of foolish political grandstanding” from a politician who “doesn’t understand technology very well.” Restricting cryptography or building the kind of back doors that May wants would cripple the Internet as we know it, Doctorow argues: “There’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it.” Besides, he adds, it can’t even be done from a technical standpoint—the Internet simply isn’t built for top-down administration.

May has some supporters in her corner. MP John Mann, from the rival Labour party, backed the prime minister’s position. “I repeat, yet again, my call for the Internet companies who terrorists have again used to communicate to be held legally liable for content,” he tweeted Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, some critics have turned their attention away from May’s technological proposal and toward the cuts to British police forces that have occurred under her government. Prominent commentators like media personality Piers Morgan are blaming those reductions, rather than online freedom of speech, for enabling recent attacks—an argument that could hamper May leading up to the national election on Thursday.



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