London Rioters’ Unrequited Love For BlackBerry

Rioters in North London have been using BBMs to rally, presuming RIM’s phone-to-phone, encrypted messages won’t land in the hands of authorities. But in an increasingly familiar move, RIM has now pledged to work with those authorities.


Rioters in London have selected BlackBerry Messages as their favorite way to communicate during flare-ups this weekend. Too bad BlackBerry doesn’t feel the same way about the protestors.

The riots were reportedly initiated by the police shooting to death a man in Tottenham, North London, but have become more about overall anger at the current government. BlackBerry Messages (BBMs) were as innocuous as “unite and hit the streets” and as incendiary as those promising “pure terror and havoc & free stuff.”

Research In Motion (RIM), the Canada-based makers of the smart device, are quickly making their stance clear.

@UK_BlackBerry tweeted: “We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.”

This assistance could come in the form of cooperation with the British police force, who have already hinted that Twitter users who played a role in escalating riots could face arrest. Compared to tweets, Blackberry Messages‚ “BBMs,” are harder to trace. The data sent through the devices is encrypted and stored in RIM’s locked-down data centers, which they’ll open, the Telegraph suggests, if the U.K. government asks nicely. RIM is working with authorities in other words, but it declined initially to answer questions about specifics. A RIM spokesperson did offer Fast Company the following statement:

“As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement, and regulatory officials. Similar to other technology providers in the UK, we comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces.” 


RIM has, however, had some high-profile run-ins with governments concerned with their encryption system in the past. In the fall of 2010, the UAE threatened to ban the BlackBerry unless RIM allowed them a closer look into their security and encryption features. A conversation behind closed doors led to an announcement a week later that the UAE government and RIM would be involved in a collaborative partnership for RIM services including tailor-fit e-banking in the Middle East.

India had concerns with encryption too, then made a similar threat in December 2010, before RIM and the government sat down to ink a deal which would give the Indian government the right to ask for access to the data transmitted on the mobile devices, on a case-by-case basis.

In Egypt, BBMs were the one holdout for chatty protesters when the Egyptian government suspended all major forms of telecommunication in the country early in the Arab Spring. In the weeks that followed, Vodafone raised eyebrows when the company suggested they helped along the revolution in a new media campaign. RIM, it appears, is going the other way.

[Image: Getty Images]