Waterloo, Ontario is a long way from London, England, but that hasn't prevented Waterloo-based Research In Motion from being dragged into the middle of England's worst riots in a generation.
Following news reports that rowdy youths had been using Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones — specifically the private, encrypted BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service — to coordinate riots and looting for the past three nights, the Canadian company yesterday (Aug. 8) offered to hand over BBM records to London's Metropolitan Police.
That in turn prompted a member of a British-based "hacktivist" group, TeamPoison, to deface an official BlackBerry website today.
Later, a member of parliament called for BBM to be switched off in Britain altogether tonight.
"Clear this is one of reasons why unsophisticated criminals are outfoxing an otherwise sophisticated Police force," tweeted David Lammy, a Labour MP and former cabinet minister who represents Tottenham, the neighborhood where the rioting started Saturday night. "BBM different as it is encrypted and Police can't access it. Asking BB to do it voluntarily."
Lammy was right about the encryption. BlackBerrys are renowned for security and privacy — all communications are encrypted and Research In Motion (RIM) keeps records of calls, messages and emails by private users on its own servers.
Those features have also displeased governments in the Middle East and South Asia, who have forced RIM to share calling and messaging records with local authorities.
It's not certain whether RIM has indeed begun to hand over records to Scotland Yard. But if they have, there will be plenty of evidence to use against people accused of inciting riots and looting.
"If you're down for making money, we're about to go hard in east london tonight, yes tonight!!" read one BBM message broadcast to many other BBM users Monday evening, according to the Guardian newspaper. "I don't care what ends you're from, we're personally inviting you to come and get it in. Police have taken the piss for too long and to be honest I don't know why its taken so long for us make this happen. We need a minimum of 200 hungry people. We're not broke, but who says no to free stuff. Doesn't matter if the police arrive cos we'll just chase dem out because as you've seen on the news, they are NOT ON DIS TING. Everyone meet at 7 at stratford park and let's get rich."
Just the threat of RIM cooperating with the authorities was enough to give "Trick," a member of Britain's Anonymous spinoff TeamPoison, enough reason declare war on the hapless Canadian company.
(RIM's stock has fallen in recent months as its latest BlackBerry models have failed to impress analysts, and in late July it laid off 2,000 workers.)
"No Blackberry you will NOT assist the police," tweeted Trick today, while offering a link to blogs.blackberry.com.
The official BlackBerry blog at that moment bore a long message from Trick, which has since been taken offline but was cached on other websites.
"Dear Rim," read the message. "You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all, the Police are looking to arrest as many people as possible to save themselves from embarrassment.... if you do assist the police by giving them chat logs, gps locations, customer information & access to peoples BlackBerryMessengers you will regret it, 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.... do you really want a bunch of angry youths on your employees doorsteps?"
The message continued: "p.s. – we do not condone in innocent people being attacked in these riots nor do we condone in small businesses being looted, but we are all for the rioters that are engaging in attacks on the police and government."