Monday, September 12, 2011

Social Communication

Social Communication and Social Networks, in Egypt, Libya, Syria, China, any regime about to be overthrown by disgruntled populations, and which the"West" disapproves of, are cool ... although the Wests' favourite IT corporates (Microsoft, Cisco, Google. Yahoo etc etc ... yawn) seem to have little regard for their own governments' stated policies, but much for the unstated ones.

Social Communication and Social Networks. What the hell do these expressions mean? Since language developed, and even before, we have communicated socially.

Even insects socially communicate. Every morning I watch ants going up and down a house column - the ones going up "kiss" the ones going down (or vice versa) communicating the way forward or back, up or down. There is a social network.

Humans have always talked to each other. Along came the written word, newspapers ... and this all incited unrest. Putting a broadsheet on a 18th century wall in Britain is the same as a broadsheet on a wall during the Cultural Revolution in China,

Telecommunications came along so social communications were faster (not further - I could always talk to my aunty in Australia by snail-mail). Telephones, telegraph, telex etc etc. And then came computers, modems, computers talking to computers, wifi and mini-computers (i,e. mobile phones) talking to each other.

Or rather - humans talking to each other.

Through human-inventions - writing. the printing press, the broadsheet, the newspaper, the telegraph, the radio, the telephone, the television, the computer, the modem, data networks, the Internet, mobile phones, VoIP, Facebook, Twitter, and BBM.

humans talking to each other.

humans talking to each other

Earlier in the year I wrote about the "social communication" application Sukey that aims to alert people via their mobiles to police "kettling" strategies whereby the police encircle an entire geographical area where a demonstration is taking place and prohibit all movement directly connected to the demonstration. Or not! The result you cannot leave your office, your place of employment and go home, you cannot visit Macdonalds, you cannot visit a public toilet to take a piss or have a shit.

A subsequent high court judgement condemned the kettling strategy. As a result the police have supposedly abandoned it ... but with social communication networks, applications such as Sukey, the protesters, are one up on the establishment.

But the recent civil disturbances, "riots", in the UK seem to have provoked a counter-reaction from the establishment to the power of the new technologies.

Two men, youths, young adults, have been imprisoned for for years for inciting disturbances via Facebook on their mobiles. They did not manage to incite a disturbance and they did not participate in a disturbance.

"A number of people have appeared in court in recent weeks for organising or attempting to organise disorder on social Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan and Jordan Blackshaw were jailed for four years for incitement on Facebook

Jordan Blackshaw, 21, from Marston, Cheshire, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, Cheshire, were jailed for four years for online incitement.

Blackshaw had created a Facebook event entitled "Smash Down Northwich Town" while Sutcliffe-Keenan set up a Facebook page called "Let's Have a Riot in Latchford". Both have said they will appeal.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old David Glyn Jones, from Bangor, north Wales, was jailed for four months after telling friends "Let's start Bangor riots" in a post that appeared on Facebook for 20 minutes.

And Johnny Melfah, 16, from Droitwich, Worcestershire, became the first juvenile to have his anonymity lifted in a riot-related case for inciting thefts and criminal damage on the site. He will be sentenced next month.
Plotting violence

In the aftermath of the riots, which spread across England's towns and cities two weeks ago, Mr Cameron said the government might look at disconnecting some online and telecommunications services if similar circumstances arose in the future.

"We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to 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 told MPs during an emergency session of Parliament.

Tim Godwin, the Met police's acting commissioner, also said last week that he considered requesting authority to switch off Twitter during the riots.

However, he conceded that the legality of such a move was "very questionable" and that the service was a valuable intelligence asset.

Meanwhile, Guardian analysis of more than 2.5 million riot-related tweets, sent between 6 August and 17 August, appears to show Twitter was mainly used to react to riots and looting, including organising the street clean-up.

The newspaper found the timing of the messages posted "questioned the assumption" that Twitter was used to incite the violence in advance of it breaking out in Tottenham on 6 August.

Currently, communications networks that operate in the UK can be compelled to hand over individuals' personal messages if police are able to show that they relate to criminal behaviour.

The rules gathering such queries are outlined in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA)."

The heavy sentences look like Establishment and Government kickback to anti-kettling,

So then we had the government putting the heavies on the social communications networks both in public and parliamentary forums:

"The government and police have not sought any new powers to shut social networks, the Home Office said after a meeting with industry representatives.

Instead they held "constructive" talks aimed at preventing violence being plotted online through existing co-operation, the Home Office said.

The meeting with representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Blackberry was held in the wake of English city riots.

The prime minister has said police may need extra powers to curb their use.

Networks such as Blackberry Messenger - a service which allows free-of-charge real-time messages - were said to have enabled looters to organise their movements during the riots, as well as inciting violence in some cases.

Criminal behaviour

Following Thursday's meeting, a Home Office spokeswoman said: "The home secretary, along with the Culture Secretary and Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, has held a constructive meeting with Acpo (the Association of Chief Police Officers), the police and representatives from the social media industry.

"The discussions looked at how law enforcement and the networks can build on the existing relationships and co-operation to prevent the networks being used for criminal behaviour.

Nick Clegg: ''We are not going to become like Iran or China. We are not going to suddenly start cutting people off''(OH NO ?)

"The government did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks."

Dispelling rumours

Prime Minister David Cameron has also said the government would look at limiting access to such services during any future disorder.

A Twitter spokeswoman said after the meeting that it was "always interested in exploring how we can make Twitter even more helpful and relevant during times of critical need".

She added: "We've heard from many that Twitter is an effective way to distribute crucial updates and dispel rumours in times of crisis or emergency."

A Facebook spokesperson said: "We welcome the fact that this was a dialogue about working together to keep people safe rather than about imposing new restrictions on internet services."

The company said it had highlighted the role Facebook played during the riots, such as people staying in contact and organising the clean-up.

"There is no place for illegal activity on Facebook and we take firm action against those who breach our rules."

A spokesman for Blackberry maker Research In Motion said the meeting was "positive and productive".

The company said: "We were pleased to consult on the use of social media to engage and communicate during times of emergency. RIM continues to maintain an open and positive dialogue with the UK authorities and continues to operate within the context of UK regulations."

But it seems the governnment had preempted the "social networks":

MI5 joins social messaging trawl for riot organisers

Intelligence agency asked to crack encrypted messages – especially on BlackBerry Messenger – to help police

AA looted O2 mobile phone store in Tottenham Hale. MI5 has joined the hunt for riot organisers
A looted O2 mobile phone store in Tottenham Hale. MI5 has joined the hunt for riot organisers who used smartphone messaging. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex Features

The security service MI5 and the electronic interception centre GCHQ have been asked by the government to join the hunt for people who organised last week's riots, the Guardian has learned.

The agencies, the bulk of whose work normally involves catching terrorists inspired by al-Qaida, are helping the effort to catch people who used social messaging, especially BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), to mobilise looters.

A key difficulty for law enforcers last week was cracking the high level of encryption on the BBM system. BBM is a pin-protected instant message system that is only accessible to BlackBerry users.

MI5 and GCHQ will also help the effort to try to get ahead of any further organisation of disturbances. The move represents a change as officially MI5 is tasked with ensuring the national security of the United Kingdom from terrorist threats, weapons of mass destruction, and espionage, with the police taking the lead on maintaining public order.

However, they have a statutory right to target criminals or those suspected of being involved in crime, officials have said.

Police struggled to access the BBM network last week, though some who were sent messages planning violence were so outraged they passed them on to law enforcement agencies.

GCHQ's computers and listening devices can pick up audio messages and BBM communications. MI5 and the police can identify the owners with the help of mobile companies and internet service providers. The agencies can intercept electronic and phone messages, identify where they have been sent from and their destination. That allows other investigations to take place and other efforts to develop intelligence.

One source said: "The hope is this will boost the intelligence available. It always useful to get some boffins in."

In his speech on Monday David Cameron made no mention of his threatened clampdown on social media. Last week in the House of Commons emergency debate, he said: "There was an awful lot of hoaxes and false trails made on Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger and the rest of it. We need a major piece of work to make sure that the police have all the technological capabilities they need to hunt down and beat the criminals." One of MI5's functions under the 1989 Security Service Act is to support "the activities of police forces … and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime".

MI5 intercepts communications though officially can only do so with warrants signed by ministers. It seeks technical help from GCHQ.

GCHQ's functions, according to the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, include "to monitor or interfere with electromagnetic, acoustic and other emissions and any equipment producing such emissions and to obtain and provide information derived from or related to such emissions or equipment … "

It can do so "in support of the prevention or detection of serious crime".

On its website, MI5 stresses such a distinction: "For the most part the activities of domestic extremists pose a threat to public order, but not to national security. They are generally investigated by the police, not the Security Service."

For law enforcement, the difficulty with BBM is that it boasts semi-private – and instant – access to a network of like-minded users.

BlackBerry handsets are the smartphone of choice for the 37% of British teenagers, according to Ofcom. BBM allows users to send the same message to a network of contacts connected by "BBM pins". For many teenagers, BBM has replaced text messaging because it is free and instant.

Unlike Twitter or Facebook, many BBM messages are untraceable by the authorities. And unlike Facebook, friends are connected either by individual pin numbers or a registered email address. In short, BlackBerry Messenger is more secure than almost all other social networks.

So-called "broadcasts" can be sent to hundreds of disparate users within minutes, away from the attention of law enforcement agencies.

In the 12 years since it released the first BlackBerry, Research in Motion (RIM) has built a formidable reputation for the impenetrable security of its smartphones. RIM has always struggled to explain to the authorities that, unlike most other companies, it technically cannot access or read the majority of the messages sent by users over its network.

One of the biggest problems for law enforcement in the digital age is the inability to get real-time access to messages sent by potential criminals.

In England, RIM has said it will actively cooperate with law enforcement as they investigate those behind the unrest. Although it cannot hand to police the contents of rioters' messages, it can disclose information that could assist any investigation.

A clause in the Data Protection Act allows RIM to disclose the names, contacts and times of prominent BlackBerry Messenger users in a certain area and at a certain time."

i.e. although the police could tap Twitter and Facebook they couldn't hack BBM so have to call on the skills of GCHQ.

Now there are concerns that Freedom of Information legislation will be compromised under the government's proposals to "reform" Tony Blair's NHS - not that FOI and NHS procurement were ever so compatible.

On a lighter note surveillance technology is not foolproof.

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