"Want to roll Tottenham to loot?" - the power of Twitter

Acording to cover in the Daily Mail of the riots and looting in Tottenham and Wood Green,  Twitter was used to summon the under-classes on London to help themselves, once it had  became clear that the police were not going to stop them. Now we will see whether the “surveillance society” has any meaning.

Will there be footage from working cameras to identify the looters?

Will RFID chips and serial numbers be used to locate the stolen electrical goods?

Will the Twitterers be traced and prosecuted for incitement?

Or is all the brouhaha over the power of surveillance technologies and the consequent threats to civil liberties merely a game between those selling that which does not actually work very well, (if at all), in the real world and those who believe them, (whether because they are gullible or because they are paranoid or both).

In my “Warlords versus Merchants” blog I referred to the risk of London becoming a muggers paradise in 2012 with the police busy on-line or on anti-terrorise or crowd control duty. Last night we had a foretaste of what might be to come.

Would round-the-clock monitoring of potentially criminal communications have enabled pre-emptive action as soon as the tweets appeared – and would that have been in time?

Or would it merely have led to even fewer men available to take physical action when needed?

And would your answer be different if your home and/or business had been one of those looted and gutted by fire?

Were the Kurds and Turks of Wood Green who mobilised to protect their businesses homes the only rational people last night?

That last question brings me back to the on-line world. Would we be better off if we took a similar approach to the policing of cyberspace, accepting not only that we need “Partnership Policing for the Information Society” but that the partnerships have to be led by those who wish their customers to transact with them on line? 

Last week I chaired a small workshop to plan the Information Society Alliance – EURIM exercise to take victims’ eye look at impersonation . We came to a similar conclusion to that of the shop-owners of Wood Green. But being nice middle-class citizens we would like to legitimise the approach by working with and through the relevant law enforcement agencies where possible – following Peelian policing principles . Peel’s constables had, of course, the Riot Act, as interpreted by Lord Justice Mansfield after the Gordon Riots, as fall back. The same law applies on-line as off-line. I feel sure the ghost of Lord Mansfield would have a suitable interpretation to cover on-line riots.