While many earlier reports scoffed at media coverage highlighting the role of social media and BlackBerry devices in the UK riots, the allegations became much more serious when the phrase "BlackBerry Riots" suddenly went viral.
The basic "BlackBerry Riots" theory stems from the observation that a number of the criminals have used BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to send messages to each other which could be construed as coordinating the widespread rioting and looting.
By nature, BBM messages are encrypted and extremely difficult to trace, in addition to being free. London's Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Stephen Kavanagh nevertheless assured that "police have got extensive monitoring of this BlackBerry messaging model and actually a lot of people who are seeing these Blackberry messages are forwarding them to the police."
Looming in the background is the admission of BlackBerry manufacturer RIM (Research in Motion) that the company is "engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can" and has no recourse but to turn over any archive data that the police may request.
Hacker group Team Poison (previously known mainly for posting details of members of other hacker groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec) managed to access RIM's blog, stating ""Dear Rim; You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all."
Team Poison then threatened, "if you do assist the police by giving them chat logs, gps locations, customer information & access to peoples BlackBerryMessengers you will regret it, we have access to your database which includes your employees information; e.g - Addresses, Names, Phone Numbers etc. - now if u assist the police, we _WILL_ make this information public and pass it onto rioters..."
The unrest began with the police shooting of a suspected gang member in the North London region of Tottenham, whose MP David Lammy has already asked that BlackBerry services be suspended throughout the area.
The backlash against the "BlackBerry Riots" characterization has already begun, however, with people such as Ben Rooney of the Wall Street Journal writing that "social media can no more take the credit for the 'Arab Spring' than the blame for the 'London Summer'. They may have played a role but simply because they are the communication tool of the day. Communication technology is morally neutral."
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