BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

Summary: London is besieged with rioters; a city under attack by its own people. Is the BlackBerry perpetuating violence?

SHARE:

LONDON -- Riots and violence are spreading throughout the British capital: initiated by the killing of a man by armed police in Tottenham, north London, and perpetuated throughout the city by seeming discontent at the current government.

Having said that; frankly, nothing is quite clear.

Burnt out police cars, London buses and buildings, the throwing of stones at police and widespread looting. London is under siege -- by its own people.

Many have turned to social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to vent raw emotion and to report the events currently ongoing. But the BlackBerry seems to be the weapon of choice for many -- using in particular the BlackBerry Messenger service -- predominantly used by younger people.

(Image via Flickr)

Just before the weekend, I suggested the younger generation should leave the BlackBerry behind; either forget it for the back to school season, or simply to ride out their contracts and find something new.

However, the encrypted and private nature of BlackBerry Messenger is being reported in the press today as one of the sole methods of sending secret messages to other BlackBerry users, in a bid to continue the violence on the streets of London.

One member of the public reported a short while ago on the BBC News channel: "There was a BlackBerry message going around, saying: '4 o'clock we'll be meeting outside Lewisham train station'."

According to Ofcom's recent study, BlackBerry handsets are the most common for British teens -- with 37% of teenagers aged 13-18 owning one.

PINs -- the Personal Identification Number -- isn't just for your chip-and-pin credit or debit card. Used as a unique identifier for each BlackBerry device, PINs can be spread on other social media sites to connect with one another. It is like a phone number, except limited for the BlackBerry range.

Sending PIN messages is a secure and encrypted way of transporting text from one device to another -- regardless of whether you are using the corporate BlackBerry Enterprise Server, often limited to enterprises and corporations.

Court-issued warrants could be used to access PIN and BlackBerry Messenger text if necessary, but as the riots progressed from Friday night onwards and continue today, law enforcement cannot keep up.

Having said that, the UK arm of Research in Motion is "stepping in" to help law enforcement wherever possible, the company said on its Twitter account.

Further to this statement, Patrick Spence, managing director of global sales and regional marketing at the BlackBerry maker, said:

"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. As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials.

Similar to other technology providers in the UK we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces."

BlackBerry Messenger has, for quite some time, been a replacement for text messaging. Acting in an all but exact way, users are able to send mass messages to their contacts through "broadcasting" -- allowing influential users to organise events, send out party invitations -- or in this case, a meeting place to commit acts of violence.

Because of the complexity of current events and the long history that precedes events running up to Friday, it is impossible to know whether BlackBerry Messenger really is being used as a conduit for lawlessness and disorder.

Research in Motion UK's indication, however, does seem to point in that direction.

Related content:

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Mobile OS, BlackBerry

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

13 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Message has been deleted.

    Pandorum
    • RE: BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

      @Pandorum
      I assume he's being paid by a pr firm. This article is pointless
      KenoshaSysAdmin
      • RE: BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

        @KenoshaSysAdmin I appreciate the comments -- if you take a look at Techmeme, you can see how others have reported this, too.

        w w w.techmeme.com/110808/p11#a110808p11
        zwhittaker
    • RE: BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

      Funny how the "authorities" made hero's of the "Arab spring" social network users, but make villains out of domestic users, all the while ignoring the root cause of the problems! Looks like a double standard to me!
      kd5auq
  • RE: BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

    Very disappointing article.
    sagec
    • Message has been deleted.

      deaf_e_kate
  • if the govt can keep their conversations secret

    ..then why cant we?
    otaddy
  • Communication used to perpetuate riots in London.

    If 37% have blackberries, the other 63% have a different phone or no phone.<br><br>If the iPhone were more popular, would you be blaming facetime and iChat? If Android was the market leader, which IM would be at fault?<br><br>Free hint for all the "Journalists" (bloggers, influential tweeters, etc included):<br><br>Communication is how we came out of the trees and formed societies. Communication was necessary for us to organize into towns and cites. The individuals that require communication will use the available methods.<br><br>The decision to try and slant this as a fault against the blackberry is horrendously misplaced and smacks of widespread bias in the media.
    rtk
  • Message has been deleted.

    tonymcs@...
  • No, I don't believe so...

    Remember the LA riots after the Rodney King hearing in mid 90's?<br><br>No-one had instant, handheld communication then. It was a matter of enough people pissed off to get out and the street do damage.<br><br>I would say it's a non-factor; not just BBM, but Facebook, Twitter, iChat and the like.<br><br>If people are going to get out and be destructive (losing a hockey game for God's sake!), they're going to do regardless of how they communicate.<br><br>People that aren't prone to idiotic acts of violence or aggression won't take part, whether they get a message on FB or BBM.<br><br>Either way, Godspeed and Mind how you go
    UrNotPayingAttention
  • Message has been deleted.

    dwb124
  • awsome

    Zack, you have not taken your article where you could have... Let's not forget the millions of Blackberry users around the world, businesses and governments - they are as evil as those teenagers from London. We should do something about this, don't you think???
    hcosma@...
  • RE: BlackBerry Messenger 'used to perpetuate riots' in London

    So it's ok for Twitter to continue open despite Iran rioters / protesters using it to coordinate, but not ok for Blackberry to let UK rioters to coordinate?

    Isn't this all about why people are pissed off so much both in Iran and UK and not about what social media services they are using?

    Telephones, personal messengers, mails can also be used for such purposes. Do we need to stop them too?

    Cannot believe UK and Iran have this kind of similarities when dealing with rioters
    prastagus