In a statement, BlackBerry said it would cooperate with the authorities, but the company has refused to answer specific questions since then.
“We feel for those impacted by recent days’ riots in London,” said Patrick Spence, the company’s managing director of global sales and regional marketing. “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.”
Police can require RIM to hand over data under section 49 of the U.K.’s Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act, allowing them to analyze the flow of messages and track down the specific BlackBerry handsets from which the inflammatory messages originated. Since individuals need a service plan to use BBM, the police can then trace users’ identities via their network provider.
Cell-phone operators in Britain keep location data from handsets, as well as call and text records, for at least a year so that they can comply with RIPA requests from law enforcement agencies. Another less-well-known provision, section 54 of the same act, prevents those responding to RIPA requests from revealing that they are doing so.
So BlackBerry’s refusal to answer specific questions, which has led to reports suggesting that messages cannot be traced and that techno-savvy teenagers had outwitted the police by using BBM, is more likely evidence that the company is cooperating.
While RIM has not disclosed whether its U.K. servers archive messages, most industry experts and lawyers believe that they do this to comply with RIPA, and that the police are already sifting through the data to help them identify and track down those involved in the recent violence.