London Police Thwarted Riots At Olympic Sites


London’s Metropolitan police were able to stop riots planned at Olympics sites and high-end shopping centers by “breaking in” to encrypted social messaging sites. The†Guardian reports that detectives searched the messages on the mobile phones of those who’d been arrested and thus found out about planned riots and looting, and then sent police to those locations in advance. Just today, the police also revealed that they had considered turning off social messaging sites including Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry messaging but, as acting Metropolitan police commissioner, Tim Godwin said, they learned they did not have the legal powers to do so.

Godwin also commented that the social networking sites were a useful “intelligence asset” for police to monitor. On Monday, the Guardian reported that police had brought in the security service MI5 and the electronic interception centre GCHQ to track down people who had used social messaging sites in organizing last week’s riots, and to seek how heavily encrypted Blackberry messages might be broken into.

In addressing Members of Parliament on the home affairs committee who are beginning an investigation into the riots, Godwin also said that Prime Minister David Cameron had been “wrong to tell the House of Commons last week that his officers had been too timid when faced with rioters and looters” and rejected the government’s claim that a “massive surge of officers” had quelled the rioting.

The London police’s reporting of how they’ve been “policing” — surveying — social media sites for information about the rioting comes at a time when Facebook, Twitter and other digital communication services are coming under scrutiny by law enforcement. Last Thursday, San Francisco’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system shut off cell phone service to preempt planned demonstrations to condemn the killing of Charles Blair Hill, who was shot by BART police officers on July 3 after they received complaints about a drunken man. No protests were held and BART has been scrambling to explain its actions in the face of concerns about free speech and public safety.

Then yesterday night, roving protests led to BART closing four stations — Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero, all in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown and commercial areas — at commute time. BART police in riot gear blocked entrances as commuters stood on sidewalks; service was not resumed until 7:30 pm. On Sunday, the hacker group Anonymous had broken into a BART website and released personal information from more than 2,000 customers. Anonymous’ action is being investigated by the FBI while BART itself is facing an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were widely heralded for their role in the Egyptian revolution. But recent events have shown how such digital tools can play a role, in the case of the UK riots, in criminal acts. In addition, new technologies mean that governments find themselves in uncertain territory as they seek to address concerns about public safety and the right to free speech.


Related Care2 Coverage

Cameronís Call To Ban Social Media: Echoes of Mubarakís Internet Shutdown?

UK Riots and Cuts to Public Universities: Any Connection?

San Franciscoís BART Shuts Down Cell Service, Fearing Protests

Photo of London Olympics site under construction by amandabhslater


Erth G.
Erth G.5 years ago

During riots all kinds of attrocities are commited because there is mass confusion and anarchy...never know who really got raped or tortured or robbed....the destruction alone and the mental scars of children and people that have been inflicted upon will linger on them for years or the rest of their lives.
There should be larger consequences for crimes like this since theres no real way to find out what happened in dark times such as this....

Siusaidh C.
Susan C5 years ago

While people are in the mood to punish wrong-doers, what about the Brits involved in trafficking thousand of adolescent girls into Bosnia - the story told in 'The Whistleblower'?

Kathryn Bolkovac - a courageous US cop employed by DynCorp (in the film, thinly disguised as 'DemocroCorp') - blew the whistle on DynCorp and UN employees involved in what was essentially sex-slavery (in too many cases ended only by death) of girls coerced to Bosnia from Ukraine and elsewhere in eastern Europe. While DynCorp is US-owned, the subsidiary in charge of the Bosnia side of the business has offices in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Why should those involved, and who made huge profits, continue to enjoy impunity for their crimes?

Hugh W.
.5 years ago

I think riots are sometimes called for. Though, everyone should be held responsible for their actions. If someone murdered or looted during the riot, they should be punished. Execution is a bit severe for looters and rioters, though. I hope you can redirect that anger for some more constructive purpose.

Sharon H.
Sharon H5 years ago

This is off topic and I'm going to post it on every thread today, but several people have told me that they have quit getting the daily Care2 news via their emails. It seems that it's affecting quite a few. My suggestion to them was to subscribe again because that's what I had to do awhile back when it happened to me. If it's happening to a lot of people, we might have to notify the C2 staff so that they're aware of yet another glitch.

Brian P.
.5 years ago

@Emma P. - your post is very contradictory to your profile which can only mean that you are a hypocrite or of questionable can you claim affiliation with Amnesty International, PETA etc or claims of supporting causes with "anything with love as it's a driving force" while calling for mass executions?

For this, I cannot take you seriously

David P.
David P5 years ago

Thanks Robert D. Sad to say I'm so uninformed that I had to check out the meaning of I.M.O.....doh...(I've now last the last tiny bit of credibility I had with my daughters.....oh well.)

Siusaidh C.
Susan C5 years ago

Emma - "Personally I think all the rioters should be lined up and shot". Would that be extra-judicial execution or 'only' after trial?

Any connection you have with Amnesty International should be severed. AI works against the death penalty, not for it.

Lenora S.
Lenora Southwood5 years ago

Great comment Emma P,clap clap!!

Robert Tedders
Robert T5 years ago

@Robert O.: I disagree. I would not agree with the riots but this comes too close to hacking and sounds far to sinister for my liking.

@David P.: "According to current interpretation of British law, writing the above on a social site is enough to get you four years. Fair justice or over-reaction?" Over-reaction, I.M.O Dave!

David P.
David P5 years ago

Emma P. 'Personally I think all the rioters should be lined up and shot....'

According to current interpretation of British law, writing the above on a social site is enough to get you four years. Fair justice or over-reaction?