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Tech Report: BlackBerry Messenger Plays Role In England Riots

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Blackberry Torch 9800 smartphone. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Blackberry Torch 9800 smartphone. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The texts sent via BlackBerry Messenger that have that helped rioters organize on the streets of London and other cities across England since the weekend pose a challenge for law enforcement.

The encrypted files are much more difficult for police to track quickly because the Messenger service offers password protection so that messages are visible only to the sender and desired recipients.

“This has been a good tool for organizing what unfortunately is a very bad situation that’s caused a lot of distress to people in the U.K.,” said KCBS technology analyst Larry Magid.

Research In Motion said it was cooperating with police, but shutting down the BlackBerry messaging system could penalize more than just the troublemakers. More than 45 million people use it worldwide, including President Barack Obama.

KCBS Technology Analyst Larry Magid:

The free service enjoys a large following among young people in Britain in part because the BlackBerry is much cheaper than the iPhone and many Android models, Magid said.

Messages on other social media such as Facebook and Twitter have also been connected to the violence spawned by a police shooting amid high unemployment in a bleak economy.

One 18-year-old boy in Dundee was detained Tuesday for allegedly encouraging violence on Facebook after community members alerted authorities to the posts, according to police.

But the social networks also have provided refuge for fearful residents and shop owners who say police efforts have been feeble and slow. Twitter is helping to pinpoint areas of violence, organize community cleanup groups and alert people of alternative routes they can use.

“Facebook and Twitter have been used, but less as an organizational tool and more as an informational tool to let people know what’s going on, but less to actually get people to show up at a specific spot,” Magid said.

The association Twitter and Facebook have with the so-called Arab Spring uprisings throughout the Middle East this year have even police departments in the United States concerned about the avenue social media provide to organize large crowds with little notice.

“Flash mobs can be anything from a wonderful situation where people show up and start dancing and playing music, all the way to a situation where people show up and break into a store and loot,” Magid said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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