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Tottenham MP David Lammy has called on RIM to shut down its BlackBerry Messenger service overnight, to prevent rioters using the closed network to coordinate gatherings.

Speaking on 5Live, Lammy claimed that the messaging service was "one of reasons why unsophisticated criminals are outfoxing an otherwise sophisticated police force", and asked RIM to take it down temporarily – mirroring a Twitter campaign propagated with the tag #blockbbm.

BlackBerry Messenger is popular with the youth demographic which has been making such a mess of city centres over the last few evenings, and is less public than Twitter for those wanting to spread their message surreptitiously.

Not that BBM is secure as such – the police certainly have access to messages sent over it – but David Lammy argues that it is slower to intercept than Twitter or similar, and thus it would be worth shutting it down for a few hours to make life harder for those looking for a place to riot.

The role of BBM in the riots is still contested, with some pointing out that police helicopters are attracting more looters than instant messaging, and there's an argument that having a network which criminals (inaccurately) think is secure is actually helpful for those trying to catch them.

It's also a decision that RIM will have to make: shutting down a private communications network isn't something the UK government has the power to do. In an emergency it can take over the network, and it can certainly ask politely with considerable conviction, but ultimately the decision will be RIM's. ®

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