BlackBerry offers "assistance" to London riot police

RIM raises eyebrows with riot-related comment about working with police

Nicole Kobie
8 Aug 2011

BlackBerry has raised eyebrows with a statement saying it was helping police following reports rioters were favouring its messaging system.

The BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service is popular among teenagers in the UK, with a recent report by Ofcom saying BlackBerry handsets were the most common among younger users.

Unconfirmed reports have claimed rioters and looters have used BBM to alert others where to go, but its unclear exactly how much BlackBerrys, other handsets or social networks are actually being used.

The UAE has threatened to ban RIM's BlackBerry because of its secure networks. In Egypt, the internet was shut down during protests, and Vodafone said it was "forced" to send pro-Government text messages.

Against that background, BlackBerry in the UK posted two lines on Twitter, saying it was working with police regarding the riots.

"We feel for those impacted by this weekend's riots in London," it said. "We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can."

Asked for additional comment, RIM only added that it normally works with police. "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 cooperate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces."

If under court order, any firm can be required to hand over data, but it's unclear why RIM felt the need to announce it, or if the police have indeed requested any assistance. RIM has reportedly said it has no plans to shut down the BBM service.

RIM had nothing else to add at the time of publishing, and we were unable to reach the Metropolitan Police's press office.

Twitter incitement

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police has warned it will target social-networking users who "incite" violence.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh said messages posted on Twitter had been "really inflammatory" and "inaccurate", according to a report in The Independent.

Kavanagh said the police would "absolutely" arrest anyone inciting violence via the social-networking site. "That investigation is already under way and that is exactly the sort of thing we are looking at," he said.

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