Block SNSuppressing social networks or mobile phones at times of unrest is ‘unacceptable’, the UK Foreign Secretary has told a global summit on cyber-crime.

Human rights such as privacy and freedom of expression should apply as much online as they do offline, William Hague said.

His remarks appear to rule out any clampdown of Twitter or Facebook during riots, an idea briefly considered following the disorder in English cities earlier this year.

They are in stark contrast to Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments to Parliament in August, when he said: ‘When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.

‘So we are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.’

But Mr Hague told delegates: ‘Human rights are universal. Cultural differences are not an excuse to water down human rights, nor can the exploitation of digital networks by a minority of criminals or terrorists be a justification for states to censor their citizens.

‘We reject the view that government suppression of the internet, phone networks and social media at times of unrest is acceptable.

‘In fact we would go further, and boil this concept down to a single proposition: that behaviour that is unacceptable offline is also unacceptable online, whether it is carried out by individuals or by governments.’

The Foreign Secretary also warned countries who fail to understand the risks of web-based attacks could be exploited by other states.

‘It is increasingly clear that countries with weak cyber-defences and capabilities will find themselves exposed over the long term; at a serious strategic disadvantage given the apparent rise in state-sponsored attacks,’ he said.

His speech follows a No 10 adviser’s admission that China and Russia – both countries with representatives attending the London conference – are suspected of carrying out attacks to steal secrets from other countries.

Baroness Neville-Jones, who is Mr Cameron’s special representative on cyber-security, said Beijing and Moscow were ‘interested in this kind of activity’.

The head of GCHQ, the Government’s ‘listening’ agency, Iain Lobban, said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office computer system was targeted in a ‘significant’ attempt to extract information earlier this year.

Representatives from 60 nations have gathered for the conference which will also hear from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Facebook’s policy director for the UK, Europe and Middle East, Richard Allan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been forced to cancel her speech as her elderly mother is unwell.

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