2011 London riots cause BlackBerry BBM rethink

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By Richi Jennings (@richi ) - August 9, 2011.

[Updated with more RIPA legal info]

The London riots and looting spree have caused British police to turn to Research In Motion (TSE:RIM)(NASDAQ:RIMM) for help. It's emerged that a hard core of rioters were coordinating via BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). In IT Blogwatch, bloggers ponder the true meaning of crackberry.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: Morgan Day and Emily Wigger's Jitterbug Super Mario Brothers...

Leo King rules reporting across the pond:

The violence initially began after a man, allegedly carrying a gun, was shot dead by police. ...Police have vowed to track down people who posted “inflammatory” messages on the BlackBerry Messenger network.


Blackberry devices have, in recent years proved...popular among young people...because of the low cost of...BBM compared to texts. ... While BlackBerry Messenger messages are...encrypted, RIM can still be compelled to hand over user information to the police.   

   Paul Kunert adds:

The smash 'n' burn attacks on...stores and vehicles...came days after the death of Mark Duggan, who was killed in an alleged shoot out with police. ... Catching the fire-starters retrospectively is possible as RIM can pass over decrypted versions of BBM chatter.


BBM...has the backing of JayZ, the hip hop mogul who is one of BlackBerry's biggest fans...a big turnaround for a technology seen recently as the most corporate of handsets and services.   

Jonathan Akwue is down wif da kidz:

I appear to have been one of the first people to notice that young people were using [BBM] to communicate with each other prior to, and during the riots. ... I didn’t expect it to become quite as big a news story. ... My insight came from the urban young people I’m connected to, for whom BBM is the social network of choice.


What the young people I’ve spoken to today find amazing is that this is a revelation. ... “BBM is standard issue.” One said. ... “Of course. It’s all about BBM. This is our network!” I was told.


To be clear, BlackBerry did not cause the riots. ...[W]hen young people are angry and organised enough – the results can be explosive. ...[S]ocial networks don’t cause riots – people do.   

Meanwhile, RIM UK tweeted this brief statement:

We feel for those impacted by the riots. ... We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.   

What could that mean? Simon Bisson knows:

[I]f I was the intelligence branch of the Metropolitan Police I would have sent someone over to RIM...as soon as [possible] ... with a signed Regulatory of Investigatory Powers [RIPA] section 49 letter. RIM would be required to hand over message data...[enabling] traffic analysis to show the spread of messages. ...[T]he traffic patterns would be all the police needed to track down message sources.


Section 54 is one of the bits of RIPA that most people don't know about...it allows any investigating body to ensure that an operator can not tell anyone that it's responding to a RIPA request. ... So that's why you're not going to hear anything...about how and why they're working with the police. It's not that they won't tell you, it's that they can't.   

  And Mike Simons agrees:

RIPA is extremely wide ranging and can require organisations to hand over message data to the police...“for the purpose of...preventing disorder...[or] in the interests of public safety.”


The police can then subject this data to traffic analysis...and with geo-location data gathered from network operators, they could build up a rapid picture of...who was where and when. Correlating...with CCTV footage could give the police lists of suspects.   

And Finally...
Morgan Day and Emily Wigger perform at the 2011 National Jitterbug Championships with their Showcase Routine: Super Mario Brothers
[hat tip: hippybear]

Don't miss out on IT Blogwatch:

Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher

Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. He's the creator and main author of Computerworld's IT Blogwatch -- for which he has won American Society of Business Publication Editors and Jesse H. Neal awards on behalf of Computerworld. He also writes The Long View for IDG Enterprise. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email: itbw@richij.com. You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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