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BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) has given Indian security forces access to private instant messages. The move follows the setting up of a BlackBerry service centre in Mumbai last February, with official sources reporting that the interception of BlackBerry’s messenger service (BBM) messages will be used in cases where criminal activity is suspected. Law enforcement agents must first seek gain permission from the Home Ministry, before sending a request to the suspect’s operator or RIM for the data it needs. RIM has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.
Following accusations that social media were used to play a key role in the social unrest in August, representatives from Research in Motion, Twitter and Facebook came under the spotlight at the Commons Home Affairs select committee this afternoon.
Stephen Bates, Managing Director of BlackBerry’s Research in Motion, Richard Allen, Director of Policy at Facebook and Alexander McGilvray, who is responsible for public policy at Twitter were questioned by the committee, chaired by MP Keith Vaz, regarding the role of social media in the riots which spread across the country in August, and the trio insisted that all three platforms were used as a force for good.
In the midst of the unrest, calls were made to shut down social networking, particularly BlackBerry messenger, as it was suggested that this was being used to organise violence. Cutting off Facebook, Twitter and BlackBerry messenger in times of unrest seems no different to the censoring this kind of media experiences in China and oppressive countries over the world.
The committee heard that should it be necessary, all three of the representatives of the social media, who work within frameworks to condone with the law, would not resist closing down social media, but did not feel that it would be necessary.
Bates, Allen and McGilvray all said that throughout the unrest in August, social media were used in a positive way – to contact family and friends to advise that users were safe, to help clean-up in the wake of the riots, and perhaps most importantly as a tool of communication, used to quell and correct rumours. McGilvray said that most of the “retweets” that occurred during and after the riots were corrections of inaccurate tweets, spreading rumours and misinformation.
The representatives from the social media stressed that as long as technology keeps advancing, the police will have to continue to adapt their methods to deal with the situations. Allen compared the developments of social media with the creation of the car – “It took the police time to catch up when thieves began using cars, the same is happening now.”
A key issue addressed by the committee was responsibility. Bates admitted that BlackBerry messenger had been used in a malicious way to organise crime, but stressed the need for balance when addressing the issue.
Allen explained that their focus on identification meant there was an accountability relating to misuse of the platform but said that there were only a handful of cases where this had occurred during the riots. McGilvray said “People come to Twitter to say things publicly and that means there is a different kind of usage.” Allen and Bates advised that they were involved with communications with the police, and McGilvray advised that as Twitter is a public forum, it was not necessary on their behalf.
McGilvray said that to lock down social media in times of social unrest would be “horrible,” stressing once again the good things that arose from the use of social media in the times of unrest.
Keith Vaz advised that there may be times when closing down social media was necessary, asking “Why should the government not use the powers to close down these networks if there is mass disorder and this is the only way to stop it happening.”
As Twitter, Facebook and Research in Motion prepare to meet the Home Secretary, Index on Censorship and other human and digital rights campaigners ask to be included in discussions on social media blackouts
Research in Motion (RIM) faces a ban of BlackBerry data services in Turkey if it doesn’t obey new legislation requiring companies to hand over communication encryption keys to Information and Communication Technologies Authority.
The new regulations aim at fighting terrorism and strive to make it possible for the country’s national security agency to tap into any suspect communications.
Blackberry smartphones are preferred by many, as they are the only smartphones which use an encrypted e-mail system, offering the secure communication.