British lawmakers are calling on Research In Motion to suspend its BlackBerry messaging service amid the London riots, a controversial demand that puts the mobile company in a tight spot.
Member of Parliament, David Lammy, asked RIM to shut down BBM services in London as agitators continue using it to organise looting and burning parties.
“This is one of the reasons why unsophisticated criminals are outfoxing an otherwise sophisticated police force,” he tweeted. “BBM is different as it is encrypted and police can’t access it.”
Rather than posting their intentions on Facebook or Twitter, which police can easily monitor, London rioters are taking advantage of the cheap, phone-to-phone service to send secret messages about planned lootings.
Lammy’s request to stop this trajectory received mixed responses both from rioters and from RIM.
On the agitators’ behalf, a group named Teampoison Tuesday hacked RIM’s Inside BlackBerry log and posted a warning to the company,
“If you do assist the police by giving them chat logs, gps locations, customer information & access to peoples BlackBerryMessengers, you will regret it,” said the group in a post.
“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,” continued the threat.
For RIM’s part, the company insists it regularly cooperates with worldwide governmental authorities but has so far not disclosed whether it will honour Lammy’s request to hand over chat logs.
If it decides to do so, RIM may risk more than possibly endangering its employees as Teampoison threatens. The company may anger its users if it opens up BBM chat logs to authorities, as some may balk at having their private messages available to police without a warrant or subpoena.
On the other hand, if it doesn’t cooperate, RIM may face criticism for failing to actively assist U.K. authorities in tracking down rioters. The company’s managing director Patrick Spence already pledged to help London police, though how far RIM will go in voluntarily revealing user information remains to be seen.
In the past, RIM has drawn ire either for cooperating too little or too much with governmental requests like Lammy’s. After the Mumbai bombings, Indian authorities requested the company decrypt its BBM service so police could scan for would-be terrorists.
At the time, RIM insisted it could not do so and fought the government’s demands before ultimately giving India partial access after the country threatened to ban BBM.
Saudi Arabia also warned RIM it would ban BBM unless the company allowed it access to citizens’ private messages, allegedly so authorities could monitor communication between unrelated men and women. RIM is still developing a plan to compromise with Saudi officials, a move that may affect how it may or may not cooperate with future requests like those from London.
RIM is in a delicate position when it comes to complying with governmental information requests. It will likely face criticism no matter what it decides, which may be the last thing the struggling mobile company needs right now.