BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has promised to help police looking into the use of social media to co-ordinate riots in London at the weekend.
RIM has promised to help police looking into the role of BlackBerry Messenger in co-ordinating the riots in London over the weekend. Photo credit: Nicobobinus/Flickr
RIM said that it will "co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces" looking into the possible use of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) in riots in north London over the weekend, which saw over 160 people arrested and 26 police officers injured.
"We feel for those impacted by this weekend's riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can," Patrick Spence, managing director of RIM's global sales and regional marketing, said in a statement on Monday. "As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we co-operate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials."
RIM has given governments access to BlackBerry communications in the past, negotiating with countries including UAE, Saudi Arabia, and India. The company averted bans on its email and messaging services by agreeing to give governments access to communications.
The riots started on Saturday in Tottenham Hale following the fatal shooting of local man Mark Duggan by police on Thursday. The riots spread around the capital over the weekend, and police reported widespread looting in north, east and south London boroughs by small groups of people on Sunday. Disturbances continued on Monday in Hackney and other areas.
Three officers were hit by a car when trying to make arrests for looting in Waltham Forest on Sunday, while Brixton saw looting and fires. Enfield also saw looting, Islington was the scene of some disturbances, and 50 youths gathered in Oxford Circus and were contained by police. Some officers were still in hospital on Monday, according to the police.
The Metropolitan Police said it will investigate the use of BBM and social-networking sites such as Twitter to incite and co-ordinate riot activity.
"We will pursue anyone who incites violence, whether verbal, on a placard, or via Twitter," a Met spokesperson told ZDNet UK. "We will be looking at all forms of public communication [including BBM]."
Twitter could not be reached for comment on whether it has been approached by the police over the incidents.
Unlike Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger can be used to send private messages to a network of contacts, and so avoid immediate official surveillance.
"There is no doubt that that BBM — BlackBerry Messenger — is being used to organise disturbances," said Guardian journalist Paul Lewis. "I've had multiple sources confirm that this BBM message, encouraging people to loot in Enfield Town, was widely disseminated as early as 2pm on Sunday."
The Guardian quoted a message, purportedly circulated via BBM, which began: "Everyone in edmonton enfield woodgreen everywhere in north link up at enfield town station 4 o clock sharp!!!! Start leaving ur yards n linking up with you niggas. Guck da feds, bring your ballys and your bags trollys, cars vans, hammers the lot!!"
In addition, the Urban Mashup blog reported on Sunday that messages about Duggan's shooting had been circulating on BBM since Thursday, fuelling anger about the death.
Twitter and social-networking sites were used in the Arab Spring series of uprisings in 2011 to co-ordinate actions against repressive regimes. US authorities have recently revealed that they are monitoring social networks to detect the distribution of extremist violent propaganda.