London Riots: The Good and Bad of ICT

This week I am working from London.  Although all has been peaceful on the streets I’ve been walking,  I am reading about all the violence and looting that is occurring. It seems the rioters used various social media networks to identify where to hit next.

Apparently Blackberries are a favorite for rioters because of their relatively private messaging capability. But on the positive side, clean-up crews are also utilizing social media tools to communicate and mobilize with the hashtag #riotcleanup. The corresponding website is here.   As always, IT based media can be used for good and bad.

According to this article on Computerworld, carriers will be able to use IT to make looted cell phones pretty much worthless – perhaps some consolation for the looted.

But most importantly, it is the extent to which cell phone usage information can be used to identify and perhaps convict rioters.    According to this article in the Guardian today, Everything Everywhere, which owns T-Mobile and Orange and Canadian RIM, which owns Blackberry are engaging with police to provide information under the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. I imagine that most of us would agree with this.

Most of us though are probably appropriately dismayed when the Chinese government uses internet data from companies to identify, prosecute and imprison people communicating what they consider to be inflammatory information that leads to societal discontent.

Another article in today’s Guardian explored how different countries have viewed the UK riots.  “A widely circulated report in the People’s Daily said the riots were the “bitter fruit” of Western support of internet freedom……..the west is always supporting internet freedom and opposing other governments’ restriction on these kinds of websites. Now it is hard for them to complain.”

I guess right and wrong are, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder.

Friday 12 August post script – PM Cameron raising possiblity of blocking individuals access to social media if they are plotting violent acts. I am  not at all sure of the practicaliies of  having a judge determine this on an individual by individual basis. More important is the precedent it sets.  And when it comes to social media would a restriction like this be more akin to censorship or to imposing a curfew ?

Wednesday 17 August post script – Global Network Initiative (GNI) response to PM Cameron raising possibility of limitations 

24 August post script – GNI posted this open letter to the UK Home Secretary


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