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London Riots: Official Calls for Blackberry Service to Be Shut Down

London Riots
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Because BBM, which rioters are using to communicate, is not traceable by cops, PM David Lammy says it’s “one of reasons why unsophisticated criminals are outfoxing an otherwise sophisticated police force.”

LONDON – What, you might wonder, is the modern urban guerilla’s rioting weapon of choice? A machete? You might think so. But for most of the youngsters looting and ransacking the streets of London for the past three nights, cement blocks, iron bars and supermarket trolleys seemed to do the job of smashing in shop windows just as well.

A balaclava? Perhaps. Per the multiple videos posted on Twitter and footage aired on British news networks through the night, some sort of facial covering appeared to be an essential style accessory.

But when it comes to the single item that the modern would-be looter simply can’t do without, the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is a Blackberry.

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The hordes of marauding youngsters laying waste to the streets of London for the past three nights weren’t communicating by Twitter, Facebook or MySpace, which are traceable by police.

Increasingly, rioters are thought to have linked with one another by BBM, Blackberry’s private inter-user access only network to plan where to congregate and which shops to target.

The mini hand held Blackberry has long been considered the addiction of choice for the corporate community, pre-dating the more youth-oriented iPhone, and allowing agents, executives and bankers to tap away incessantly, even at the dinner table.

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But now Blackberry – one of the world’s most elite consumer brands – is waking up to a less favorable reality: its BBM network has been hijacked by the swarm of lawless rioters more intent on using it to decide where to congregate, get past police lines and haul away 42-inch plasma screen TVs from the remains of ransacked stores.

London’s horrified citizens have taken to the public social media sphere to register tens of thousands of updates, photographs and incident maps on Twitter and Facebook over the past three nights, detailing new aspects of the unfolding terror gripping parts of the city.

But the unique untraceable nature of Blackberry’s BBM private and largely free instant messaging service has been used by looters to organize a connected campaign of terror that has left many pockets of the city in virtual lockdown.

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According to figures from UK media watchdog Ofcom, 37% of teens us a Blackberry, attracted by its free messaging service by which users access by exchanging pin numbers and is cheaper than the per-text fees that mobile phone users have to pay.

One BBM message shown on Sky News read:

"Everyone in edmonton enfield wood green everywhere in north link up at enfield town station at 4 o clock sharp!!!! Start leaving ur yards n linking up with your... da feds, bring your ballys and your bags, trollys, cars vans, hammers the lot!!"

Amid calls from some quarters to shut down the BBM network because of the role it seems to be playing in putting Londoners under siege, Blackberry’s owner, the Canadian group Research In Motion, has said that it will co-operate with the police to attempt to track down users sending

“We feel for those impacted by this weekend's riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can,” said Blackberry spokesman Patrick Spence, in a statement.

“As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials. Similar to other technology providers in the UK we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces," he added.

But MP David Lammy, MP for the borough of Tottenham where the original trouble broke out, has said that the network should be shut down temporarily to allow London’s police force to do its job.

Speaking on Radio 5Live, Lammy said the messaging service was "one of reasons why unsophisticated criminals are outfoxing an otherwise sophisticated police force", and he asked RIM to take it down until the streets were made safe again.