BlackBerry manufacturer's willingness to help British investigation of riots criticized by Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders has criticized the Canadian manufacturer of the BlackBerry smartphone for cooperating with British authorities in their investigation of recent riots, and British officials for considering restrictions on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Research in Motion (RIM) has provided Scotland Yard with personal information "about a number of BlackBerry users, jeopardizing their personal data," said Reporters Without Borders. Rioters apparently used BlackBerry's messaging service, and other social media networks, to communicate with each other during four nights of destruction Aug. 7-10 that resulted in the arrests of 1,600 people. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) provides an infographic that explains rioters liked BlackBerry's messaging service because it was fast, secure and cheap.
PC Magazine reports that officials from Facebook and Twitter will join RIM in meeting with British government officials to discuss their concerns.
Reporters Without Borders said it "believes that the provision of personal data to the police sets a disturbing precedent in a western country and could have significant consequences as regards setting an example for others kinds of government."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has been lambasted for his suggestion last week that perhaps in the future those plotting violence on the streets should be banned from social media. “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill,” he told the House of Commons last week. “And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.”
"Cameron is sounding more like a Middle Eastern dictator trying to quell the Arab Spring, than the head of a model of democracy in the western world," said an editorial by the Calgary Herald, a Canadian daily newspaper.
BBC's technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones suggested a government crackdown on social media is impractical and unwise since it's not surprising rioters used social media to their benefit, and that Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry's messaging service were essential for warning people away from certain areas while also playing a role in organizing citizens to clean up debris after the riots subsided.
Mathew Ingram, writing for GigOm.com, suggested social media tools were used during the British riots just as they were in Tunisia and Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Arab Spring, by journalists and non-journalists: to disseminate information quickly and easily. Why not crack down on telephones as well? Ingram asked.
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