Saturday, August 13, 2011

Technology & The UK Riots (Short Take)

U.K. (album)
I haven't been to the UK since I came to the US when I was eight months old. When I was younger it was in a sense close by though since my Mom is British. Thankfully she's still only a phone call away today.

Given that it's been depressing hearing about the recent goings on in London and other locations. Being a technology junkie I've tended to focus on that aspect a bit more than the stories of burning buildings and other such chaos. Two things have primarily caught my eye. First, the fact that the riots were in many cases organized and coordinated using Blackberry messenger service and similar technologies. This isn't a surprise. Any tool can be used for bad or good. Texting, Google, messenger services, etc are all just tools and thus no exception.

The second thing is that the thing the people organizing these "events" apparently failed to realize that those messages leave trails. Really big trails that can easily be followed back to them if the government desires and with this scale of mayhem it was clear the government of the UK was going to. You don't poke anyone in the eye that hard and not expect a response.

Another thing many apparently failed to realize is that London has cameras all over the place and that facial recognition software is amazingly accurate these days.

So a lot of people are getting arrested and will be prosecuted.

Speaking philosophically, violence is never a good place to start when you have a beef. It escalates things to a place where there is essentially no chance of a positive outcome.

The anonymity of the mob has been a pretty good shield in the past but as technology advances it's becoming increasingly difficult to hide. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's not nearly as simple as some might think. So, while technology may have played a part in aiding the riots it's also playing a part in catching those who lead and participated in them. Increased communication efficiency is a knife that cuts both ways.

Interestingly there was a case here in the San Francisco Bay area recently where BART, one of our local public transit companies shut off cell service in some of the tunnels and stations their trains use to discourage a planned protest over the killing of a rider by the BART police last month. That decision is prompting a lot of debate right now over what is an isn't appropriate. Personally I feel the bar needs to be set VERY high when it comes to justifying something like that.

Image via Wikipedia

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