Fascinating incursion of technology choices in the UK riots. With RIM‘s handsets massively popular with the UK youth (#1 brand for 12-15 year olds with 37% of the market to 17% for the iPhone, #1 brand for 16-24 year olds also with 37%, to 25% for the iPhone, which is #1 overall with 32% of the total UK smartphone market), the unrest have been hailed as the BlackBerry riots.
The Guardian does a nice analysis of the 25-year shift from community organizers and open-air meetings to social media, and it’s of course quite interesting to see that the “good citizens” are organizing cleanup on Twitter.
BlackBerry says it is cooperating with the police, but I am quite curious to know what exactly that entails: “firehose” access to BlackBerry Messenger messages (which aren’t public) would be a start. It could help intelligence work and ensure the police know what’s coming (similar to having “ears on the ground” or monitoring Twitter or Facebook). Legal or not, the police have always used such means to be at the right place at the right time.
But will individuals then get identified and prosecuted, based on the messages they’ve sent and received? That’s a trickier question: I’m not sure how UK law works with telecommunications evidence. In The Wire, much is made of how the police ensures the evidence they gather is admissible in court (going through fairly stringent steps to obtain wiretap warrants). However, tighter public-order and terror legislation (much of it fairly recent) now affords the police quite flexible powers.
What’s more, merely having received (or sent) a message calling for riots is in no way conclusive of actual participation. To ascertain that, the police could use mast information (geographical location of that phone’s user based on which antenna the phone was connecting to) and the vast number of surveillance cameras installed on British territory, now getting nearer Enemy of the State.
PS. A huge tip of the hat to UK telecom regulation and research agency Ofcom: their web site is extremely well made and in particular, linking to information is easy. Nice!