It is likely that Research In Motion (RIM) will have to hand over its data to the Metropolitan Police and the UK government as riots continue to spread across London and other cities in the UK, according to a leading telecoms lawyer.
According to several media reports the riots, which began on Friday, have been co-ordinated using RIM's BlackBerry private messaging service (BBM), which the police and officials have found more difficult to intercept than open social networking sites such as Twitter.
Since riots escalated yesterday evening, RIM has said that it plans to co-operate with authorities, but that it must continue to operate under UK data protection laws and regulation.
"We feel for those affected by the recent days' riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can," said a spokesperson.
"As in all markets around the world where BlackBerry is available, we co-operate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials. We also comply with The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and co-operate fully with the Home Office and UK police forces."
Mike Conradi, partner and lead telecoms lawyer at DLA Piper, told Computing he believes that if a warrant is granted, RIM will have to hand over data to the police.
"RIPA says that it is unlawful for anyone to intercept a communication without lawful authority. In this case it would mean the police would need a warrant before they could see the content of BBM messages," said Conradi.
"But having said that, the act only applies to the content, not to the fact that the content has been sent. So the fact that person A has sent a message to person B at a certain time would not be covered by RIPA," he added.
Conradi believes that the police may use this loophole to acquire information about who has been sending BBM messages in certain areas when investigating arrests.
"I think they could, without much difficulty, expose anonymous information about who has sent a message to 30 people," said Conradi.
However, Conradi also explained that if the police gained a warrant from the secretary of state, which he believes would be "quite easy", they would also have access to the content within the messages sent.
"The police might then use the information available to them without gaining warrants to target specific people initially. But following this, they are likely to look for warrants to be able to read the content of these messages," he said.
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