London: The main Olympics site in east
London was one of the targets of rioters, but an attack there
was prevented after the police picked up intelligence on
social networking sites.
Assistant commissioner of police Lynne Owens told
the Home Affairs Committee today that the police prevented
attacks by rioters on the Olympic site and London`s Oxford
Street after picking up intelligence on social networks.
Riots and looting was reported from Hackney, one of
the five boroughs in which the 2012 London Olympics will be
Information about possible attacks was picked up via
Twitter and BlackBerry messenger, he said, while Acting
Commissioner Tim Godwin said he had considered asking
authorities to switch off social networks.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said the
information about social networking sites given by the police
officers was most interesting.
Much of the looting and rioting was allegedly
coordinated via social media, particularly through BlackBerry
Messenger service, leading to demands that police have powers
to shut them down during crisis.
Owens told the committee: "Through Twitter and BBM
there was intelligence that the Olympic site, that both
Westfields [shopping centres] and Oxford Street were indeed
going to be targeted".
She added: "We were able to secure all those places
and indeed there was no damage at any of them."
Godwin said the police considered trying to shut
the networks down in order to prevent them being used to
organise further violence.
He said: "We did contemplate, I contemplated, asking
the authorities to switch it off. The legality of that is very
questionable and additionally, it is also a very useful
BlackBerry has offered to co-operate with police
investigating the riots - prompting attacks by hackers angry
that the company could be prepared to hand over user data to
British intelligence agency MI5 has now been asked
to contribute to efforts to decode traffic through the social
media during the riots.