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BlackBerry, Twitter Investigated in London ‘Mass Disorder’

Blackberry Messages Probed for London Riot Plans
Firefighters inspect buildings and retail stores at Clapham Junction in south London after riots on Aug. 9, 2011. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Aug. 9 (Bloomberg) -- BlackBerry smartphone maker Research in Motion Ltd. said it is assisting London police with investigating the use of the company’s messaging service by rioters to plan disturbances, as they prepare for another night of “mass disorder.”

“Police have got very extensive monitoring of the Blackberry Messenger model,” Stephen Kavanagh, deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, told reporters today. “A lot of people who are seeing those messages are forwarding them to police” who are “planning for mass disorder again tonight.”

David Lammy, the U.K.’s intellectual-property minister, today called for a suspension of BlackBerry service to prevent its use among rioters to communicate plans, according to a statement from his office. Kavanagh has said technology is being used to organize people and undermine the police, who must adapt their policing style to deal with it.

The riots and looting throughout the city, which began Saturday following a protest over the shooting and killing of Tottenham resident Mark Duggan by police, have resulted in dozens of officers being injured and at least 525 arrests, with people as young as 11 being apprehended for looting. After a third night of violence, police will also review the role of messages sent using other popular networking systems, including Twitter Inc.

Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, posted a message on its official U.K. Twitter account last night saying, “We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.”

Less Encryption

BlackBerry messenger is “significantly less encrypted compared to the BlackBerry e-mail that corporations are using,” said Leif-Olof Wallin, an analyst at Gartner Inc., based in Sweden. “Any kind of cryptographer should be able to crack it without the involvement of RIM to be honest.”

Social media have been used to coordinate demonstrations against Middle Eastern regimes, campaign for Saudi women’s right to drive and for lower prices for cottage cheese in Israel. In the U.K., the use of Twitter and mobile phones by troublemakers, may help authorities identify them and restore calm in the capital, Steve O’Connell, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said by telephone yesterday.

“I would expect the Met to use every technology available to get it sorted out, make the arrests, and bring peace back to our neighborhoods,” O’Connell said yesterday. “The bad guys were using these sites to target areas quickly. Small bands of ne’er-do-wells were descending on high-quality stores to loot.”

Court Orders

Twitter spokeswoman Rachel Bremer declined to comment. The San Francisco-based company’s policy is to require a subpoena or court order before giving law enforcement private information about users, according to guidelines on its website.

U.K. prime minister David Cameron, home secretary Theresa May and London mayor Boris Johnson cut short vacations to hold emergency meetings with police.

Cameron told reporters today that 16,000 officers will be deployed tonight, more arrests made and court processes sped up to deal with the cases. Parliament is being recalled for an Aug. 11 session on the riots.

Last night police used “armored vehicles driving at speed toward people,” to help disperse rioters, Kavanagh said, a tactic the department had never used before. Commanders can also decide to use rubber bullets, an option that has been available throughout the rioting, he said.

‘Opportunistic Theft’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday the violence had nothing to do with the death of Duggan.

“It was needless, opportunistic theft and violence -- nothing more, nothing less -- and it is completely unacceptable, and the people who have suffered are those who have lost their businesses, shopkeepers who have lost their shops,” he said.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating the shooting of Duggan.

“The IPCC awaits further forensic analysis to enable us to have a fuller and more comprehensive account of what shots were discharged, the sequence of events and what exactly happened,” the commission said in a statement yesterday. It said in an earlier statement during the day that “speculation that Mark Duggan was ‘assassinated’ in an execution style involving a number of shots to the head are categorically untrue.”

Duggan died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, an IPCC investigator told a coroner’s inquest that began today, according to the Press Association news service. The investigation into his death could take four to six months, according to the report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kit Chellel in London at cchellel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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