Research in Motion today said it will assist U.K. police investigate the recent spate of riots plaguing London, in response to reports that rioters used BlackBerry’s messaging service, or BBM, to coordinate attacks.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company’s managing director Patrick Spence confirmed it contacted police to offer its assistance. London’s metro police believed those behind the riots used RIM’s encrypted BBM service to ensure their tracks would be difficult for police to follow.
“We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can,” Spence said.
He added RIM complies with U.K. legislation on the interception of communication, and cooperates fully with the Home Office. RIM refused comment beyond the statement.
BBM, unlike regular text messages or Twitter, is a free, private social network where almost all messages are encrypted when they leave the sender’s phone, leaving many messages untraceable by authorities. RIM previously said it cannot unscramble its users’ messages.
Although RIM can be ordered to hand over details of those suspected of unlawful activity, it is unclear how far the Canadian company will go to voluntarily assist authorities, since its actions may prompt fears from some BlackBerry users that their privacy will be violated.
Privacy worries were at the heart of RIM’s conflicts with governments previously, who took issue with the encrypted nature of BlackBerry communication. Earlier this year, RIM was able to somewhat resolve an ongoing dispute with the government of India over the government’s belief that BBM played a role in the Mumbai terror attacks in that country.
After several months of negotiations, India decided not to ban RIM’s products in return for permission for Indian authorities to monitor its consumer-focused BBM. At the time, RIM said it was impossible to allow monitoring of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
The BlackBerry maker has also faced bans in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but has managed to resolve those conflicts under undisclosed terms.
Mobile technology companies like RIM, who are eager to expand in developing nations like India or Saudi Arabia, were pressed to provide greater monitoring control to authoritarian governments, but the riots and looting in England may indicate the demand for greater access may soon be heard from governments a little closer to home.
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