Mass media is recently blaming social networks in general, and Blackberry Messenger in particular, for the London riots. Now the British Government is talking about shutting down social networks when necessary. And I can’t believe how naive all of this is.
It seems very plausible that BBM, Twitter or Facebook were some of the tools used by rioters to spread their message, but it seems unrealistic to believe that shutting down these services is going to stop criminal activity. Not to mention the consequences this would have on its everyday legitimate use. Today there are hundreds of tools that allow us to communicate with huge groups of people at almost zero cost, so if BBM –or any other service– isn’t available, people will switch to another one. The root of the problem is the people, not the tools used by the people.
I understand, however, that all of these new ways of communicating present a big challenge for police forces around the globe. But they’ll have to adapt. A couple of decades ago their only concern was tapping phones: it required a small number of companies because all the information of a given suspect would go through a single path. Nowadays trying to get into all the networks of a user’s daily interaction is almost impossible. I’m not an engineer and maybe different tools can be tapped at the same time, but I think about all the tools I use and feel sorry for the officer in charge if I’m ever under surveillance: fixed and mobile phones, VOIP, email, IMs, social networks…
The good news for law enforcement agencies is that most of these new tools can be traced afterwards. Most require written communication, and that leaves a trace. It will probably be time consuming, but with the right tools I guess everything can be recovered. In fact I’ve read that Blackberry is already working with the police to track suspects.
This may be controversial, but a few days ago news were all about iPhone and maybe Android. Today Blackberry is back in the market! I’d kill to get info on the sales data per day to see if all this had any impact. Many people say their image has been damaged. I’m not so sure about it.