MI5 and GCHQ join hunt for riot data
The Government has asked the security services to join the online and mobile search for people who helped organise last week’s riots in the UK.
The communications tapping centre GCHQ and MI5 have been called in to track down the riot instigators by sifting through social network and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) traffic, which is conventionally difficult to access due to encryption.
According to a report in The Guardian, the decision marks a sea change in domestic public disorder control, which is normally handled by the police rather than the secret services.
They have a statutory right to target criminals or those suspected of being involved in crime
According to the report, MI5 and GCHQ will also try to get ahead of any further organisation of disturbances.
At the heart of the move to involve GCHQ and MI5 is the desire by authorities to get their hands on messages passed over BBM, which due to its encryption and network design is more private than other social media.
According to Ofcom, BBM is the chosen platform for 37% of UK teenagers, and was widely blamed for helping to co-ordinate looting and other violence, with PIN-protected messages proving difficult to access or trace in real-time.
China happy over web action
The difficulty in managing social traffic during the recent riots prompted Prime Minister David Cameron to consider cutting access to services, but the plan has been met with scepticism at home and gloating overseas.
The Chinese Government leapt on the proposals to restrict access to Twitter and other services, claiming the move would help ease relations between the West and more restrictive regimes throughout the world.
“Cameron’s suggestion to block social-networking websites smashes basic concepts of freedom of speech in the West, which always takes the moral high ground in criticising the reluctant development of internet freedom in developing countries,” ran an article in the Government-backed Global Times.
The article praised Cameron and claimed that the proposals marked a change in direction for online controls at a time when communications are increasingly under the spotlight as a way for protesters to organise themselves.
“The open discussion of containment of the internet in Britain has given rise to a new opportunity for the whole world,” the Global Times said.
“Media in the US and Britain used to criticise developing countries for curbing freedom of speech. Britain’s new attitude will help appease the quarrels between East and West over the future management of the internet.”