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PM David Cameron claims that Twitter, Facebook and BBM instant messaging was used by rioters

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The Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament on 11 August 2011 to debate the riots that had recently occurred in several cities in the UK. He suggested that Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messaging (BBM) had been used by rioters to help to organise their activities. He stated that there would need to be a review of how content posted on these sorts of networks was regulated. Some MPs had called for the shutting down of social networks during public order disturbances - while others had suggested banning people from social networks if they were suspected of inciting violence online. Both of these options would be difficult to implement.

Blackberry Messaging (BBM) is provided by Research in Motion and, unlike Facebook and Twitter, BBM is more difficult to intercept since it is accessed through a pin-protected instant message system. The Indian government, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have previously threatened to ban Blackberry services due to concerns that terrorists could use these encrypted services to coordinate attacks. Because they are regarded as secure, CESG has approved some Blackberry products for protecting government information up to the 'restricted' level.

The police can access communications data (the information about who called who and when) relatively freely and without warrant. RIPA Section 5 permits warrants for access to the communcations content of a named person with the approval of the Home Secretary. RIPA Section 8(4) permits a warrant against a group of people if the communcations are coming from or going to a location overseas and facilitates wider trawling. The latter is often used in a national security context. Many servers are located overseas, making Section 8(4) an important instrument. The issues around police communications interception are discussed in the document produced by the Police Federation below.

'Police Interception of Communications', The Briefing, Series 1, Edition 7 (August 2009).

 

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