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WebWise news report - Turning off the internet

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 11:30 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

There is a scene in the Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd, where technophobic boss Jen is presented with a small black box and told that it is 'The Internet'. Usually housed in Big Ben and offered to her by 'the Elders of the Internet' Jen has to take extra care not to drop or break the box that holds the entire web.

She is of course falling for a prank, but imagine if just one person had the power to pull the plug on the entire cyber-world.

According to recent reports, it was just the sort of power that David Cameron was considering using during the riots this summer, where social media and Blackberry messaging were the main modes of communication for rioters. One of the key warnings against such action was that it would have undermined the UK's position on web censorship in the international community. Aside from the tiny issue of how on earth David Cameron convinced the Elders of the Internet to hand over the goods, surely we just can't live without the internet?

Whatever your stance is on human rights - and I'm going to really stick my neck out here and say that I agree with them - we can't separate ourselves from the net.

All aspects of industry have been tangled up in the world wide web. It's sped up trade, built brands and turned companies operating from a one bedroom flat into global businesses. To say it's revolutionised how we work and play as a society is an understatement. Even if the idea had been to simply cut out social media for a couple of days until the riots died down, how would businesses have coped with the lost revenue? Social media isn't just a social tool anymore. Companies pay for advertising and employ staff to work solely on social networking sites. Recently BT used Twitter to update its users on service issues - and that was after just two hours without the connection!

The role of the web in creating a safer world - both real and online - is a matter of constant discussion, and at the London Conference on Cyberspace this week, Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke on international security and how he hopes governments will work together to establish acceptable norms of cyber behaviour. Web security affects everyone, whether you're a government organisation needing to keep confidential documents under wraps, or if you simply don't want everyone on your friends list to see photos of that Christmas party.

Yes, there are strong cases for blocking certain web content and ensuring people don't see the cyber world as outside the justice system, but to make it better we have to work with it, not against it.

See BBC Click's interview with Willliam Hague at the London Conference on Cyberspace.
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