US ambassador to Britain defends Facebook over soldier's murder

The splash page for the Internet social media giant Facebook. -- PHOTO: AFP
The splash page for the Internet social media giant Facebook. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Facebook is not to blame for failing to pass on information that might have prevented the murder of a British soldier last year, US ambassador to Britain Matthew Barzun said on Tuesday.

Last month, a report by British lawmakers concluded that while security services could not have prevented the attack, an unspecified US communications company could have led British investigators to head off the plot.

The company had picked up an online exchange between one of the soldier's murderers and an overseas militant that he wanted to kill a soldier, but did not inform British spy agency MI5. British media have reported that company was Facebook.

Asked at an event in the British parliament if it was right to blame Facebook for failing to prevent the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in broad daylight, Barzun told reporters: "Are you right to blame them? No."

However, Barzun said, technology companies could play a role in combating extremism. "I don't think it is fair to pin everything on the private sector, nor is it fair to say that they have no responsibility in trying to come up with solutions," he said.

Barzun also said large US companies such as Google and Amazon, which have been accused of using complex accounting schemes to cut their payments on earnings in Britain, were not international tax dodgers.

"We made these rules, they are playing by them. My hope would be that if and when rules change they will play by those new rules as well," he said.

Britain is due to publish on Wednesday details of plans for a tax to target such multinational companies.

The US ambassador reaffirmed American support for Britain's remaining in the European Union, two weeks after British Prime Minister David Cameron gave his strongest indication yet that he may campaign to leave the 28-nation bloc.

Cameron has promised to reform Britain's ties with the EU before a referendum on its membership in 2017, if he is re-elected next year.

"We really value a strong United Kingdom in a strong EU because we see eye to eye ... on the important issues of the challenges we face," he said. "From a selfish point of view it's a really good thing, but it is entirely up to you folks to figure out your relationship with and within Europe."