The riots raging across north London have been fueled, in part, by the use of BlackBerry Messenger. When BlackBerry's parent company promised to cooperate with British police, its Inside BlackBerry blog was promptly hacked by protesters.
Credit for the hacking was claimed by a group that calls itself TeaMp0isoN. It has been linked to other shadowy groups, such as Lulz Security and Anonymous, which have taken credit for breaking into the websites of police departments, the U.S. Senate, the CIA, Sony's PlayStation network and Citibank.
As the London riots spread, BlackBerry's Canadian parent company, Research In Motion, or RIM, put up this blog post:
"We feel for those impacted by this weekend's riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can. As in all markets around the world Where BlackBerry is available, we cooperate with local telecommunications operators, law enforcement and regulatory officials."
This morning a reply appeared on the BlackBerry blog:
"Dear Rim; You Will _NOT_ assist the UK Police because if u do innocent members of the public who were at the wrong place at the wrong time and owned a blackberry will get charged for no reason at all," it said. "The Police are looking to arrest as many people as possible to save themselves from embarrassment. ... If you do assist the police by giving them chat logs, gps locations, customer information & access to peoples BlackBerryMessengers you will regret it. ..."
The rioting was sparked by the shooting death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan, in the Tottenham section of North London, last Thursday. Police said Duggan shot at them first. Protesters demonstrated on Saturday, and the march soon turned violent. It has spread to the British cities of Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool.
U.K. police say protesters have been using BlackBerry Messenger -- the popular smartphone text-messaging service -- to organize, while authorities conceded they were monitoring Facebook and Twitter. One message, according to London's Guardian newspaper, read:
"Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) f**k the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >: O"
Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled to keep up with the social networking tools used by activists. While BlackBerry has struggled against competition from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android in the United States, it is by far the leading smartphone brand in the U.K.
And the hackers are hard to stop. Last month, police arrested a 19-year-old in Scotland's remote Shetland Islands, calling him the chief spokesman for Lulz Security, but "hacktivism" still continues unabated.
"Given the ease and anonymity with which these attacks can be conducted and the jurisdiction issues, it is likely that the bad guys will remain in the driver's seat for the foreseeable future," said John D'Arcy, an assistant professor of information technology management at the University of Notre Dame.
With additional reporting from The Associated Press.