Essex cracks down on social media

BlackBerry phone BlackBerry's Messenger system was used by some looters to co-ordinate their movements

It looks like the crackdown on social media may have already begun - in Essex at least.

The county was not affected by last week's riots but Essex Police put out an intriguing statement yesterday, in which they promised to "take a robust approach to anyone who uses social networking sites to stimulate fictitious rumours."

The statement goes on to give two examples of that approach in action.

First, a 20-year-old Colchester man has been charged under the Serious Crime Act after allegedly sending messages from a BlackBerry encouraging people to join in a water fight.

Secondly, an 18-year-old woman from Clacton has been charged under the same act after allegedly using BlackBerry Messenger to encourage others to take part in violent disorder on 8 August.

So have the police found a way to listen in on BBM messages?

Probably not - after all the encryption employed by RIM across its BlackBerry network is supposedly state-of-the-art.

While I'm sure there is plenty of IT expertise at police headquarters in Chelmsford, it seems unlikely that they've succeeded where global security agencies have failed.

It looks more probable that messages have been forwarded to them by concerned members of the public.

Which only goes to show that your social networking messages are only private if all of your contacts allow them to be.

But it's not just social networking that's occupying Essex Police.

Another statement on the force's website yesterday appealed for the owner of a budgie found flying around the Co-Op in Westcliff to contact them.

That appeal also went out via Twitter. How appropriate.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    @ticalex re:water fights - they obviously take their hose pipe bans seriously in Essex.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This is good news. I think what's become clear over the last few weeks is that some people feel completely untouchable when using a computer. They feel that only have an "online presence" and that can't have any effect on their real life.

    Someone creates a Facebook page telling others to demolish a town, that's incitement to riot, no question about that. It's exactly the same as gathering 500 people in a warehouse and telling them the same thing. The fact that it's organised online electronically makes no difference so the law used to deal with it should be the same. You are inciting people to riot, it's the same as inciting hatred. Seriously, don't do it, it's against the law!

    People need to know that if you go to an airport and tell the check-in desk personnel that you have a bomb strapped to your waist, then the security services are going to take that seriously and charge you for wasting time even if you're joking. In just the same way, if you make a Facebook page telling everyone to blow up a plane or a building, they're going to take that seriously too.

    If you don't do such mindless things, you have nothing to fear. The Internet should not be used as a cover to excuse real life actions. When it is used in that way, it's the good people that get punished with more crackdowns and the threat of censorship. We now have politicians talking about preventing access to social networking while riots are going on. So, thanks for that, rioters. When my Facebook page is unreachable, I'll know who to blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'm sorry, I think I'm missing the part where attempting to arrange a WATER FIGHT is a crime - let alone a serious one. Pathetic.



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