US & World

British police arrest man for planning water fight over Blackberry Messenger

Essex Police arrested a man for planning a water fight in Colchester, England. Police said on Twitter that the man tried to organize others using Blackberry's messaging service. Police presented the news on its website in the context of last week's riots.

The Telegraph reports:

[The man, 20,] was arrested on the day the water fight was due to take place with a second 20-year-old man who was later released without charge.

The BlackBerry Messenger network was used by gangs orchestrating the looting and rioting across Britain last week.

A spokesman for Essex Police indicated the BlackBerry Messenger network was under surveillance by police, saying: "I'm sure we are making efforts to monitor such correspondence, wherever they are," he said.

What's interesting about the story is the broader context of governments both eavesdropping and interfering with new technologies to control crowds. The Guardian reports that during last Thursday's parliamentary debate, Prime Minister David Cameron said he would look into whether social networking sites should be shut down in case of emergency:

The prime minister said he would "look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality".

He has received support from some Tory backbenchers, including Louise Mensch, who likened such a ban to closing a stretch of rail network after an accident.

To bring it back stateside, in San Francisco over the weekend, the BART train service was hacked by the group Anonymous, who were protesting the fact that BART decided to block cell phone service to prevent an anti-police protest. UPI reports:

BART said it is considering doing the same thing later Monday in response to Anonymous' call for a 5 p.m. protest at BART's Civic Center Station where police fatally shot a man brandishing a knife last month.

"We're going to take steps to make sure our customers are safe," agency spokesman Jim Allison said. "The interruption of cell phone service was done Thursday to prevent what could have been a dangerous situation. It's one of the tactics we have at our disposal. We may use it; we may not. And I'm not sure we would necessarily let anyone know in advance either way."

The decision by BART has been met blistering dissent, especially from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which published a blog post comparing the steps taken by BART to those taken by authoritarian regimes in the Middle East to silence protests.

"All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, calling their actions anti-democratic and a violation of the rights to free expression and assembly," wrote the ACLU's Rebecca Farmer. "Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

The Fullerton Police Department has also been threatened by Anonymous in response to their involvement in the death of homeless man Kelly Thomas.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio