BlackBerry smartphone maker Research in Motion Ltd. said it is assisting London police to investigate claims the company’s messaging service BBM was being used by rioters to organize disturbances.
The British press has been exploring how RIM technology was used to coordinate and spread word of the police clashes, looting and arson.
After a third night of unrest, police will also review the role of messages sent using other popular networking systems, including the micro blogging site Twitter.
But while Twitter has largely been the venue of spectators to the unprecedented violence and is a practical obsrevation venue for journalists, it appears the non-public BlackBerry BBM messaging network has been the method of choice for planning it.
“Police have got very extensive monitoring of the Blackberry Messenger model,” Stephen Kavanagh, deputy assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, told reporters. “A lot of people who are seeing those messages are forwarding them to police” who are “planning for mass disorder again tonight.”
Member of Parliament, David Lammy, on Tuesday called for a suspension of BlackBerry services to prevent them to be used by rioters to communicate plans, a statement from his office said.
According to a study by the UK’s media regulator Ofcom, the affordable BlackBerry handset is the smartphone of choice for British teens with nearly 37% owning one.
BBM allows users to send one-to-many messages to their network of contacts, who are connected by ‘BBM PINs.’ For many teenagers armed with a BlackBerry, BBM has replaced text messaging because it is free, instant and more part of a much larger community than regular SMS.
London has seen the worst violence in the capital in decades in recent nights, with the unrest spreading to other cities like Birmingham and Liverpool. A stretched police force has been criticized for its apparent inability to cope and reluctance to use heavy tactics.
The touchpaper for the unrest was lit on Thursday when police shot dead 29 year-old Mark Duggan, a resident of the multi-ethnic district of Tottenham in north London, after officers stopped the taxi in which he was a passenger as part of a police operation against gun crime.
British retailers are now facing tens of millions of pounds in costs and losses following the unrest and retail representatives warn that the impact on smaller businesses could be terminal.
“It will amount to tens of millions of pounds in terms of damage to property, goods stolen, and of course lost business,” Richard Dodd, head of media at the British Retail Consortium told Reuters on Tuesday.
The London riots could not have come at a worse time for a country preparing to welcome millions of visitors to the Olympics next summer and struggling to attract investment as its economy falters.
As the disorder claimed its first fatality with the death of a man found shot during looting in south London, British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to do “everything necessary to restore order to the streets.”
Mr. Cameron said some 16,000 police would be on London’s streets on Tuesday night, up from the 6,000 on duty on Monday, boosted by reinforcements from across the country.
However the violence has already raised questions about security ahead of the Olympic Games, and it prompted England’s Football Association to cancel Wednesday's friendly between England and the Netherlands at Wembley Stadium.