BlackBerry SmartPhone Involved in UK Riots

Dennis Faas's picture

Social networking has been blamed for helping promote rioting and looting in the United Kingdom. But the culprit is not, as some have assumed, Twitter.

Riots broke out in the Tottenham area of London this past Saturday after a protest about the shooting of a local man by police two days earlier. The initial riot has been followed by numerous outbreaks of violence and looting in other areas of the city.

Twitter Users Ahead of Media in Reporting Violence

The events have been discussed extensively on Twitter, with local residents reporting on incidents before they are covered by mainstream media. There have even been attempts to use the service to build updated maps tracking the disturbances.

Those involved in the looting have also been in communication with one another, making arrangements to gather in large groups, usually well before police arrive on the scene. However, it appears these communications have not been through services such as Twitter or Facebook, as had been common in protests in North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year.

That's because it makes little sense to advertise involvement in what is clearly illegal behavior that cannot be justified as genuine protest.

BlackBerry Messenger the Tool Of Choice

Instead, the rioters' communication tool of choice appears to be Research in Motion's BlackBerry.

According to reports, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has been used to organize violence. That's because, unlike Twitter (which has only limited privacy options), BBM instant message "broadcasts" can be issued in an encrypted form seen only by people with a PIN code supplied by the writer.

The UK wing of BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) has issued a statement -- ironically, on Twitter -- reading "We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can." (Source:

The company later added in a statement to ABC that, "As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials." (Source:

It's not entirely clear what assistance the company will be able to offer, though Research In Motion has been threatened if encrypted communications of its British Blackberry users was released in order to aid British police. (Source:

In the past, RIM has previously answered government demands in other countries to access message data by saying that in many cases the encryption works in a way that means even RIM itself is unable to decrypt data.

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