Cameron Yuill, chief executive and founder, AdGent Digital
Cameron Yuill, chief executive and founder, AdGent Digital
A view from Cameron Yuill

View from the Valley: Keeping our right to communicate

When it comes to the crunch our right to communicate should not be the price of violence and fear, writes Cameron Yuill, chief executive and founder, AdGent Digital.

At the outset, let me say that I think the recent rioting in England was disgraceful.

There is quite simply no place in civilised society for the behaviour we witnessed.

However, apart from the mayhem in the streets, there was another disturbing incident that may have more far reaching and potentially destructive consequences for society than the riots themselves.

At least some rioters were using BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), among other messaging tools and social networks, to communicate when and where to meet up to wreak havoc.

By using the fast, reliable and secure BlackBerry service, the hooligans were able to target areas where they could mass in number and avoid the authorities.

During the riots there were calls from some parts of the UK media and political establishments for BlackBerry to shut down the messenger service.

Shutting down, or preventing the use of a communications platform, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, BBM or the internet itself is what dictators and despots do in a desperate bid to hold onto to power.

It is not something that should ever happen in any society, let alone the UK.

We have just witnessed the Arab Spring, and the western media has (rightly) widely lauded the part that communications platforms, in particular Twitter and Facebook, have played in bringing to an end some of history’s most repressive regimes.

For western journalists and MPs to call for a communications platform in the UK to be shut down, even in the midst of some very serious chaos, reeks of hypocrisy. 

There are plenty of good and sensible reasons why we should never allow this to happen.

In a dangerous situation everyone relies on these platforms to communicate.

It is easy to imagine turning off BBM could have endangered people’s lives as they were suddenly left without a reliable way to find out updates on the location of the violence. 

TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher - who had himself called for a shut down in a tweet he soon after retracted, later writing about the reasons for doing both - pointed out that "shutting down BBM would have done little to avert the crisis and the rioters would have simply switched to other mobile apps, and innocent people using BBM would have been affected".

Of course, the proper thing to do is to allow these platforms to continue and the authorities can use whatever powers they have to search and record communications in order to bring to justice those doing wrong.

The notion of shutting down society’s ability to communicate affects a fundamental freedom the West holds dear, that is, the freedom of speech.

If society permits communications to be shut down even for a short period of time it is a slippery slope that can have insidious consequences. 

History is full of examples of governments controlling communications to the detriment and repression of society.

It is something we must all, journalists and politicians included, be wary of and something we can never allow to happen.

Cameron Yuill, chief executive and founder, AdGent Digital