Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers

During the UK riots that swept the country in early August, we posted a question on the Comms Business Convergence Summit group on Linked In about what should be done in this type of situation. The responses were immediate, and have been reproduced here for the October industry panel.

Should the police and government be able to order companies like RIM to take services such as BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) offline to prevent the likes of UK rioters coordinating trouble? Or is this an infringement on freedom of speech that would make the UK no better than oppressive countries with no rights to individual freedom around the world?

Graham Jelfs, marketing consultant at itrack Protect: No! it’s not the application (or manufacturer) that’s at fault, it’s the users, who would find another way to communicate, whether social networks or SMS.

Also note that the same mobile technology used by the mindless thugs can be used to name and shame them via photos.

More importantly, concerned law abiding families can use the same devices to locate their loved ones ‘real time’ via itrack Protect on their PC. The SOS Alert function lets users discreetly raise an alarm if they are in danger, wherever they are, by merely pressing a speed dial button; this triggers an alert message which can be sent to a number of recipients by text, email and for BlackBerry users BBM. Once a SOS Alert is triggered an audio line is recorded with a time, date and location stamp for added security.

So the same technology can provide Peace of Mind, which is probably something needed right now!

Kendrick Struthers Watson, media strategist: NO…but…This could be a prickly pear question involving freedom of speech and privacy. I don’t think that taking BBM services offline would help very much as they’d find another method of creating these ‘flash mobs’ and it would affect every BBM user, which would be unfair.

However, I don’t have any difficulty in a vendor or operator surrendering data to the appropriate public safety organisations to assist in potential location difficulties or in order to apprehend the miscreants. If, as a result of actions undertaken in a privacy and freedom of speech environment and the outcome is public disorder – theft, trespass, burglary, violence and even death – then I have no difficulty in RIM providing the appropriate public safety agencies with BBM ID data.

What has taken place here is mindless thuggery and the public safety agencies have a responsibility to the mass of the law abiding population and is this case they should be given assistance in tracking down perpetrators and dealing with them in the judicial process.

Here endeth the lesson and no, I don’t read The Daily Mail.

Laura Norfolk, channel Manager at Vaioni Group: I agree with Graham. It needs to be remembered that social networking etc is also a very important tool for people not involved in the disorder.

Over the last few days social networking has been used by people to make sure their loved ones are safe as well as being able to find out where the rioting is in order to avoid those areas.

What we have seen in Manchester as well is people using Twitter and Facebook to organise mass clean up crews to put right the complete mess that the rioters left.

There is a very strong argument to say that turning off networks when trouble starts will cause people to panic.

The government need to remember that not all people who own BlackBerry’s and spend time on social media are going to riot and loot at the first opportunity. Most of us are law abiding citizens who have a lot of love for the places they live and would never dream of getting involved in the terrible behaviour that has been present over the last week!

Carl Thomas, wholesale manager at Fluidata: This is the age-old argument as to whether the responsibility for this lies with the application provider, OEM or network provider.

You look back to the Egyptian riots and ultimately the government made sure the buck stopped at Vodafone’s door. They were forced to comply due to the terms of their licence. (I’d expect the UK license agreement would be fairly similar, ensuring that in the interests of national security the government have the ability to shut down a network).

I personally believe that the liability should be held by the application provider (which in this case is also RIM…) and that in the interests of public safety, there should be an element of control that resides with police or government, enabling them to temporarily shut down the conduit.

Saying that, I also believe that there must be an easier way to control the flow of messages through BBM (for example). I’ll let the creative techies amongst us discuss that…!

So to answer your question – Yes!

Patricia Ansin, director at The Callista Group: No, there should not. Knee-jerk responses like this, to legislate just because of this sort of mindless criminality by a minority, only punishes the majority and it does not address the real cause of the riots and subsequent looting.

Taking services off-line will not address the real cause of these problems.

Matthew Hattersley, technical director at Vaioni Group: In other news, the fact that the Chinese Government have praised us for our move towards more guarded internet and messaging fills me with loathing. The day that politicians can choose to block twitter and Facebook for inciting anti government sentiment, is the day I don an ‘V for Vendetta mask’ and do some of my own taking to the streets.

Phil Parry, owner at Internet Engineering: Ultimately we are talking about the right to freedom of speech. Unfortunately that right can always be misused by the criminal minority, but isn’t that the price we pay for those freedoms? The reason we have a police force is to investigate and prosecute those who abuse our freedoms.

The role of the police and the government should not be to restrict law abiding citizens who wish to exercise those freedoms responsibly and within the law.

If we allow the state to take those freedoms away, then what? They will be a lot harder to regain once they are lost.

Unfortunately in the UK we don’t put enough pressure on the state to be open and accountable and too much goes on without any kind of redress.

As a nation we seem to allow successive governments to restrict our freedoms in the name of protection, and yet have any of us actually seen any improvements? Take CCTV; it’s everywhere now (the most prevalent anywhere in the world?) and yet we all live under increasing fear of crime and violence.

The police have increased powers of arrest and yet most I know agree that policing has become reactive rather than proactive and that our streets feel less safe than say 25 years ago. (Interestingly there are many who feel more threatened by the police than protected by, but maybe that’s just North Wales with their cops dressed in ‘combat gear’.)

Of course there will be those who say of you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, however if you have ever been on the wrong end of abuse of power and corruption you will know that isn’t strictly true. As one who’s seen the machine working the wrong way I’d say you everything to fear.

There needs to be clear and public oversight with real checks and balances. The state should not have the right to restrict free speech without first obtaining evidence of a crime, a court order granting temporary restraint and then only against those individuals implicated in the alleged crime.

If that means that some slip through the net, then so be it. They can be arrested later. If the police are able to monitor internet communications as effectively as they seem to be saying they can, then there should be no issue in doing so.

Extrapolate BBM to email. If your email was suddenly cut off because the state said that email in general was being used for criminal activity, how would you react? If the police are given carte blanche to restrict areas of the internet then where does it end? As melodramatic as it sounds, we need to stop sleepwalking into this restriction of our rights before it is too late and even this discussion becomes seen as criminal subversion.

Ansin, The Callista Group: You’re absolutely right Phil and it’s not melodramatic at all. The freedom we all take for granted and which is one of the giant cornerstones of our civilisation is gradually being eroded and we need to speak up before it’s too late.

It would be a tragedy for democracy and freedom of speech if in saying this, it was viewed as subversive. London’s

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