BlackBerry maker, Research In Motion (RIM) announced that should the UK government ask, it would, in times of civil strife, shut down its “encrypted” BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.
The statement was made by RIM executive Stephen Bates before a UK parliamentary committee tasked with investigating whether or not BBM played a key role in the riots which rocked England in August. Also appearing before the committee were executives from Twitter and Facebook.
“From our perspective we comply with the law and if the instruction … would be to close down the mobile networks which is the method by which that would be enacted, we would then comply, we would then work with those mobile operators to help them meet the obligations as defined by that act,” Bates said.
Twitter’s top lawyer also tasked with the social network’s public policy, Alexander Macgillivray held a different opinion from Bates. In Macgillivray’s opinion, any suspension of social networks would be “an absolutely horrible idea”. He also went on to add that Twitter wasn’t in any discussions with the police, saying that “there’s nothing they need from us”.
Facebook’s representative Richard Allan, European public policy director, stressed the importance of police needing to develop new tools to handle the “novelty factor” of social networking and that Facebook has contacts within the police so they “understand what they can and can’t ask for”.
The committee hearing comes in the wake of UK Prime Minister David Cameron calling for means to “look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services” during events such as the August riots.
While Facebook and Twitter have also received some of the misdirected blame for the riots, RIM has received the harshest criticism on the grounds that its BBM service is “encrypted”.
RIM has faced the restrictions from a number of other governments who consider the “encrypted” nature of BBM a threat to national security. South Africa’s government is the latest to consider imposing restrictions on BBM.
Image: Ben Scicluna