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Flash Mobs a Threat to Security? 582

Posted by michael
from the disruptive-technologies dept.
RawCode writes "News about a recent report released by the RCMP suggests that flash mobs could pose a future threat to security. 'Some are aimed at celebrities. Tech-savvy teenaged girls in Britain can quickly spread the word on the whereabouts of Prince William, surrounding him with hundreds of screaming fans. Some are political, organizing protests. Text-messaging was instrumental to organizing public demonstrations in the Phillippines that forced President Joseph Estrada from office'."
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Flash Mobs a Threat to Security?

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  • Two thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Control Group (105494) * on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:28PM (#10363469) Homepage
    First, this seems to be the failings of security through obscurity writ large, and not much to be done about it. Unless you can start closing off whole areas of cities so celebrities can walk through them, I don't see how you can address this sort of problem.

    The other thing that occurs to me, unfortunately, is that this will lead us even more down the path of trying to prevent crimes rather than punish them. It sounds like a good idea - I mean, isn't it better to stop the Bad Thing from even happening? The problem with it, of course, is that the only way to prevent crime is to actually curtail the abilities of people to do things that could be criminal. Fundamentally, it's a tradeoff of liberty for security.

    I'm not exactly a wild-haired anarchist, and I do believe that some tradeoffs of that nature are necessary given the amount of damage ten dedicated people can inflict (to paraphrase a quote that went something like "the progress of history can be measured by how many people a group of ten dedicated men can kill"...but I don't remember who said it. Help with attribution would be appreciated), but we (by which I mean the so-called first world) keep moving in only one direction: more security, less liberty. It's a cultural decision which is based on events like plane hijackings, car bombs and assasinations, but results in policies like the DMCA and the CBDTPA.

    The article certainly comes across as a justification for engaging in yet more crime prevention. At some point, I can only hope that we turn around and realize that we can't prevent Bad Things from happening, so we're better off allowing liberty and punishing criminals than eliminating liberty and making criminals out of everyone.

    • The quote is..... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jsprat23 (148634)
      "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
      Margaret Mead
      • Re:The quote is..... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tackhead (54550)
        > "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
        > Margaret Mead

        "Originally overheard in a Munich beer hall, 1923, and again at the Wansee Conference, 1942." - A Cynic

    • Re:Two thoughts (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Epistax (544591) <epistax AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:52PM (#10363769) Journal
      I agree entirely. I think the idea of people mobbing celebrities is a social problem of ours, not a technological one. Cure the problem, not the (albeit) catalyst.

      I personally can't comprehend how people become so attached to celebrities that they collect things about or belonging to them. Or in the case of a musician (er most likely bad singer) go to an event with the person and scream so much they don't even hear the music-- what are they really there for? I'm calling the entertainment industry sick and perverted, and blaming the audience.
      • innate, perhaps (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MenTaLguY (5483) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:32PM (#10364176) Homepage
        It seems to be a primate thing.

        In one set of experiments, monkeys were willing to sacrifice very large quantities of their favorite beverage in order to simply look at pictures of higher-ranking monkeys in their social group for a period of time.

        Sort of puts a new spin on those celeb mags in the supermarket checkout lines, doesn't it?
        • Re:innate, perhaps (Score:3, Informative)

          by jafiwam (310805)
          Wow, I'd love to have a link for that, might explain some of the folks infatuation with modern political figures too. Please post it if you have it.
    • by Simonetta (207550) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:00PM (#10363841)
      Flash mobs can work for basic freedoms when the political system is too corrupt or stagnant to respond to changes in the modern world.

      Say you and your friends are tired of being arrested for possession of marijuana. You feel that if you're not disturbing the peace, it isn't anyone's business. And you feel that the people who do the arresting and prosecuting are just in it for the bribes and kickbacks from lawyers to the police and the judges, or they are making tons of money by investing in corporate prison systems.

      So whenever you see or you be in 420 arrests happening, you send a flash bulletin. Many people who agree that this situation must change show up.
      They surround the arrest perimeter. They don't leave when ordered. They just aren't reasonable.
      A single arrest turns into a hundred arrests (for 'terrorism').
      This happens over and over. It's not a one-time thing. Eventually, the authorities begin to get the message through their cement heads that the time has come for the situation to change.
      It changes. No more 420 arrests; regardless of the 'law'.
      This is not exactly how democracy is supposed to work, but it is the only way that does in corporate dictatorship (like where the people who make big bucks selling prescriptions to Marinol reinvest the money in corporate prisons, which are filled with (black) people serving time for being unable to come up with the money to bribe the judge, ahh... excuse me, for 'using drugs').
      • by Dyolf Knip (165446) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:26PM (#10364109) Homepage
        Civil disobedience is a very good idea in principle, and with the right enemy it can work wonders. But the WTO arrests, the RNC arrests, the willingness to shut down airplanes and whole airports because someone finds a piece of paper with "BOB" written on it, the mass detention of muslims in LA a few years back, the indisputed fact that the US has _by far_ the highest incarceration rate in the world, it's all indicative of guys in charge not really giving a shit about public perception and being more concerned with CYA and maintaining their own jobs.
      • by mengel (13619) <mengel.users@sourceforge@net> on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:33PM (#10364194) Homepage Journal
        This is exactly the kind of thing that gives civil disobedience a bad name. The people who successfully used civil disobedience (Ghandi, Martin Luther King, etc.) figured out where the benefit to the people in power was in the current system, and organized specific protests designed to remove those benefits.

        So Ghandi figured out that the British were making a fortune on the salt tax, and had made making sea salt illegal to make more tax money, so he organized lots of people to break that law and make sea salt. The point was not to flout the law, but rather to stop the money.

        Now do the similar analysis: According to your statement, the people profiting from the current drug laws are "...making tons of money by investing in corporate prison systems". You are proposing to get a factor of 10 or 100 more people arressted and jailed for each drug bust. So tell me, does that make those coprporate prison investors more money or less money?

        You have to actually learn from history to make a difference.

        • by mcmonkey (96054) on Monday September 27, 2004 @02:17PM (#10364692) Homepage
          It's about the money, but it's also about practicality. The sea salt protests clogged the jails and courts with petty criminals that would get out of court and commit the same crime just to get arrested again.

          Certainly the war on drugs has its profiteers and mercenaries, but jails take years to build. It's easy to make money on a sustained growth in the prisoner population; it's hard to make money on a sudden growth in what is essentially petty crime.

          There is also the ability to force an unjust government to face uncomfortable political realities. Who wants to first on the boat back to mother England with the news the practitioners of violent uncivil disobedience aren't being prosecuted because judges have 100s of cases of 'possession of salt with intent to season'?

          Likewise, how many politicians will run on the 'I let a serial rapist go free to make room for johnny pot-smoker' platform? Not many. You can clog up the courts with petty criminals and force politicians to choose between pot smokers and violent criminals. Witness the current debate in Chicago [suntimes.com]. I don't see legalization around the corner, but I do see more localities coming to the realization pot smokers are not public enemy # 1 and just cost too damn much to prosecute.

          To many, the benefit of the war on drugs is money. But for those who have allowed this war to escalate, and have the power to stop it, the benefit is political clout. Force the hand of the police with what is essentially a DoS attack on the court system, and the politicians will have some 'splaining to do.

      • Eventually, the authorities begin to get the message through their cement heads that the time has come for the situation to change.
        It changes. No more 420 arrests; regardless of the 'law'.


        Boy, that cracks me up! Given the current events, what will happen is that The Powers That Be will try to control the situation thru some bonehead restriction of technology.

        Are people using cell phone text messages to spread the word? Then expect said service to be restricted under some "security act".
    • Re:Two thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

      by composer777 (175489) * on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:21PM (#10364065)
      You're leaving out the obvious third option of getting rid of the factors that motivate people to throw away their whole life in order to get $50 when they knock over a gas station. The obvious 3rd solution, which appears superior to having a locked down police state, or "allowing bad things to happen", would be to create enough of a safety net that only in the most strange of circumstance would someone even dream of going to jail for twenty years to knock over a gas station, sell drugs, etc.

      The next question we need to ask is, whose security do large scale protests threaten? It would certainly seem to be a small minority that are threatened by these protests, not the average Joe. I know that I don't think twice when I see protestors. I see it as a sign of democracy, true democracy, in action.
    • This is the same police force who investigated [eye.net] the Raging Grannies [rogers.com] as a subversive group.
    • Preventing crime is a necessary function of society, not just punishing criminals but fortunately there's a Right Way to do it without imposing draconian restrictions on individual liberty.

      The Swiss are issued guns as part of their mandatory military service, and required to keep them in the home and be proficient with them. You don't hear much about violent crime being committed in Switzerland.

      Arming citizens, giving them the duty and more importantly the *ability* to protect themselves, is a great way t
  • by diginux (816293) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:28PM (#10363470) Homepage
    If the "flash mob" is a bunch of terrorists, or others seeking havoc. This makes no sense at all. Having a LUG meeting could be a security threat with the right type of people :)
    • by SlashdotLemming (640272) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:40PM (#10363638)
      Having a LUG meeting could be a security threat with the right type of people :)

      I'm thinking more of a biohazard.
    • You are completely mistaken. Did you even read the summary? The summary, let alone TFA, explained how the "mob" can unintentionally locate high valued targets. That the person calling the mob to a location could inadvetantly be acting as a lookout. That the mob converging on the location could inadvertantly be acting as camoflauge for a terrorist. Things are far more complicated than your post suggests.
    • by yog (19073)
      Imagine a group of ten people walking casually into a store, in onesies and twosies, and then suddenly and instantaneously knocking over three shelves, shooting out two security cams, surrounding the cashier and four customers and emptying their cash registers and wallets as the case may be, all without speaking and done so fast that the store clerks don't even have time to register that this is a robbery.

      This kind of stuff is scary. A friend described a group of people doing some sort of flash mob stuff
  • Technology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:28PM (#10363473)
    Seems they are simply using technology to better do what they want to do. Isn't this what it is for?
  • by garcia (6573) * on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:29PM (#10363484) Homepage
    Of course it is a threat... It's a threat because people are able to quickly organize and protest. That is a major threat to public officials that want to ignore the fact that there is dissention.

    Afterall isn't that why we are "protecting" our President from those horrible demonstrators? They might actually show him that there is a percentage of the population that doesn't agree with him?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:30PM (#10363488)
    Any attempt by citizens to communicate and organize outside of sanctioned government channels will be seen as a threat to security. Welcome to the future.
    • by cL0h (624108) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:41PM (#10363647)
      Isn't it amazing how accurate George Orwell was when he wrote the book "1984" fifty six years ago. He didn't however foresee the precursive events or threats which would lead to totalitarian government control of civil liberties.
      Perhaps the catalysts don't matter since the world seems to be increasingly bent on raising walls rather then lowering them.
      So much for the global village!
  • by Cryofan (194126) <cryofan AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:30PM (#10363489) Homepage Journal
    before they look out for us.

    If it is lives they want to save, how about all the millions of working class people who die obesity, cancer, heart disease, etc? Instead we pay to make sure some elite figurehead won't have his hair rumpled by teenaged girls.

    Typical of the human critter....
  • by apachetoolbox (456499) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:30PM (#10363490) Homepage
    Right to Peaceably Assemble

    The right to peacefully gather and parade or demonstrate to make one's views known or to support or oppose a public policy is based upon the twin guarantees of the freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble.

    Practicing your right to assemble is NOT a security risk.
    • you are living in the past. Have you not heard of Free Speech Zones?
      • by jridley (9305) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:40PM (#10364256)
        Anybody who modded that funny apparently doesn't know what's going on.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:56PM (#10363809) Homepage
      The Kent State massacre occurred at Kent State University, Ohio, and involved the shooting of students by the National Guard on May 4, 1970. Students were protesting against American involvement in the Vietnam War; the demonstrations had arisen in response to the invasion of Cambodia that President Richard Nixon launched on May 1. The Ohio state governor had ordered the Guard onto campus in response to the burning of the ROTC building by arsonists the previous day. The militia were wearing gas masks in the hot sun (obscuring their vision and causing heat exhaustion) and had little training in riot control. Provoked by several hours of clashes with protesters throwing rocks and taunting them, the Guardsmen fired a single volley of rifle fire at the gathered crowd.

      No very large group protesting has ever been 100% peaceful. and No response from the government has ever been to protect those citizen's rights.

      If you believe that the Constitution or the Bill of Rights applies to everyone equally in the United States, you either just got here, or have lived under a rock for the past 200 years.

      It's the one ideal waved in everyone's faces that is the biggest hyprocacy on this planet.

      As a US citizen, that fact makes me sick.
    • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:18PM (#10364031)
      Practicing your right to assemble is NOT a security risk.

      Incorrect. It's not illegal, but it may very well may be a security risk.

      Put yourself in the shoes of a police officer or security agent -- if 200 people show up in your area out of the blue, you're going to be suspicious, and you're going to watch them closely. Maybe there's one bad egg in that crowd. Maybe they're all bad. Maybe there's no bad eggs, but while you're focused on watching them somebody else takes advantage of your guard being down and gets away with something.
    • by philbert26 (705644) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:21PM (#10364064)
      Practicing your right to assemble is NOT a security risk.

      The fact that your right is constitutionally protected doesn't mean it's not a security risk. It just means that the right is so important that the government is (supposedly) not allowed to deal with the risk by prohibiting peaceful assembly.

      Everything you do in a free society is a security risk. I don't have a government camera in my apartment, so as far as the government knows I could be making bombs in there. That's a security risk. But some risks are worth taking! We have to find a balance between security risks from terrorists and risks from oppressive government. Risk-free life is not possible. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be convinced that if something carries risk then it should automatically be banned.

    • I agree with you that the right to assembly is essential. Unfortunately, those rights have often been ignored in the past and are currently being violated with little objection from society at large.

      Certainly you've seen some coverage of IMF/WTO protests in the last few years: protesters getting beaten by batons, hundreds or thousands of people getting arrested. Now, some of those people are arrested for vandalism or because they attack police officers without cause, and certainly they should be arreste

  • Ehm.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by boesOne (693775) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:30PM (#10363491)
    If you reason this way then everything is a threat to security. How insecure is prince William anyway if he's surrounded by teenage girls ? Are we afraid of teenage-terror-girls ?
  • by Sanity (1431) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:30PM (#10363499) Homepage Journal
    So what - ban text messaging to protect poor Britney Spears next time someone spots her getting married in a Vegas drive-thru chapel? I think it might be easier, and definitely preferable, to ban celebrities.
  • Flash Mobs? (Score:5, Funny)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:31PM (#10363501) Homepage Journal
    Wow, this isn't NEARLY as interesting as the "Flash" Mobs I was thinking of...
  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:31PM (#10363503) Homepage Journal

    When the British police confiscate cell phones as they are apparently "empowered to do so" are they allowed to go though the phones call list and stored numbers or would that require a warrant? The ol' "guilt by association" thing...
  • Ugh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nuclear305 (674185) * on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:32PM (#10363520)
    Not trying to troll here...but these days everything is a security threat. I'm sure a cat wondering the lawn of the whitehouse is a security threat just because *gasp* somebody may have injected it to carry some kind of biological agent.

    As for flash mobs, what exactly can you do about them? The minute you start trying to use force to prevent flash mobs from forming (read: before they turn violent...IF they even do) you're going to have everyone yelling about how oppressed they are.

    These so-called "security threats" come with the right to be able to leave your house whenever you want...
    • Re:Ugh (Score:3, Funny)

      by RPI Geek (640282)
      I'm sure a cat wondering the lawn of the whitehouse is a security threat just because *gasp* somebody may have injected it to carry some kind of biological agent.

      My first thought to that was "well I suppose if you use a catapult. . ."

      Sorry, bad joke :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:32PM (#10363525)
    Tech-savvy girls flashing for Prince William -
    now THAT's a power to be reckoned with! :)
  • Security, Security (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tyndmyr (811713) * on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:32PM (#10363527)
    I believe that people are far too paranoid about security...Every possible advance in communications could help "dangerous" people as well as serve useful purposes. And apparently Britian treats protesters different if they have a cell phone...
  • by TheLoneDanger (611268) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:32PM (#10363530)
    For those who don't know (and the article doesn't seem to explain), RCMP stands for Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Y'know the mounties, with the red uniforms. I believe they are roughly equivalent to the FBI, though I am sure someone else can explain exactly what their duties are.
    • by sunwukong (412560) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:43PM (#10363665)
      Yup,

      RCMP == FBI
      CSIS == CIA
      CSE == NSA

      Roughly speaking of course -- the exact details are framed in their separate charters and, of course, the constitution differs between our two countries.
    • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:46PM (#10363708)
      The RCMP [rcmp-grc.gc.ca] enforces federal laws and statutes.

      In provinces where there is no provincial police, it also enforces provincial laws and statutes, usually as a police force under contract with the provincial government.

      Some cities and towns also contract the RCMP for municipal police services as well.

      From their website: We provide a total federal policing service to all Canadians and policing services under contract to the three territories, eight provinces (except Ontario and Quebec), approximately 198 municipalities and, under 172 individual agreements, to 192 First Nations communities.

      Also for those who don't know, "First Nations" refers to Native Americans.
    • CSIS (Canadian Secret Intelligence Service)
      - Similar, if not equal to the CIA

      RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police
      - Federal Police
      - Similar, if not equal to FBI Duties

      OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) Example
      - Provincial Police
      - Similar, if not equal to State Police

      Municipal Police
      - Obvious
  • Flash mobs? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sanity (1431) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:33PM (#10363535) Homepage Journal
    2002 just called, they want their fad for unemployed bloggers back.

    (Yeah yeah, and tell them they can have their joke back too)

  • by i_r_sensitive (697893) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:33PM (#10363538)

    For those who haven't read it, try "The Permanent Floating Riot Club" by Larry Niven. I can't remember which anthologies it is in, but a worthwhile read. At the end you won't be surprised by this phenom, except maybe that it isn't worse...

  • Well, duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by American AC in Paris (230456) * on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:34PM (#10363543) Homepage
    ...so what they're saying is that spontaneous, large, disorganized groups of people in a small space can pose a threat to security.

    Dene Moore, you get a cookie. I can't wait to read your next exposé, "Bullets Fired From New, Hi-Tech Guns May Be Deadly"...

  • by suso (153703) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:34PM (#10363544) Homepage Journal
    Like this one:

    Everyone who reads this should go to this guy's blog [fatality.co.uk] and post a comment about how you are looking for someone named Betty.
  • by abb3w (696381) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:35PM (#10363563) Journal
    "Flash Crowd", 1973; collected in "The Flight of the Horse".
    "The Last Days of the Permanent Floating Riot Club", 1974; collected in "A Hole in Space".

    Unfortunately, the solution is going to have to be different. The stories make a starting point for thinking about the problem.

  • by www.sorehands.com (142825) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:35PM (#10363566) Homepage
    If I A few years back at the Philadelphia RNC a person from 2600 [2600.com] was arrested [2600.com] for using a cellular phone to commit a crime. He was accused of using the phone to arrange a riot.

    Of course, the entire case was eventually dismissed.

  • by grunt107 (739510) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:37PM (#10363587)
    As usual, the government is attempting to subvert a technology that is pure democratic freedom of speech. Wish to gather and protest a government official/stance? Gather a flash mob quickly and protest. Nothing terroristic about that - or every method of communication on topics not approved by the government will be outlawed under the 'terror' banner.
    The only manner this could fall under the 'terrorism' moniker is for the flash mob to be directed to do something illegal. Kinda like 'Gather at xxxx street and bring bombs and guns to eliminate yyyy official/people'.
    As pointed out before and proven here, labeling something as a potential terrorist threat is the new way freedom is subverted - and this must stop.
  • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:38PM (#10363601) Homepage Journal
    Back when I was a UC Santa Cruz [ucsc.edu] student, people used to organize food runs on the message board on the open access student timesharing computer, a PDP-11 called "ucscb", that ran BSD. You know, with adm-3a terminals and all.

    Yes, I'm that old. This was around 1986 or so.

    Anyway, one night there was a food run declared for midnight at the Lyons restaurant in Capitola. One hundred and ten students descended all at once on the otherwise empty restaurant, and all ordered coffee, some ice cream, and at the end asked for separate checks, each of which ranged from maybe one to five dollars.

    There were only a couple employees on staff when we arrived. It took a long time to get served because they had to call off-duty employees on the phone, waking them out of bed to come work for the hour or two we were there.

    As we prepared to depart, the restaurant manager sternly said "Don't ever do that again".

  • by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:39PM (#10363624)

    Could the Internet, phones, etc. be used equally well to detect, prepare for, disrupt and otherwise mess with Flash-mobbers?

    Of course that would require a sufficiently large and motivated group of people with lots of time on their hands who are interested in preventing mayhem ... ;)

  • Seems to me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Treeluvinhippy (545814) <treeluvinhippy@@@snet...net> on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:42PM (#10363654)
    The technology is simply being used for what was originaly envisioned. Worldwide cheap and efficient communication that can change the world.

    And since it's changing the world it isn't surprising to me that there are those who would like to see this form of communication restricted.
  • Signal to noise.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zippity8 (446412) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:42PM (#10363657)
    As always, it can be easily solved.

    Just put this article in the paper, and wait for other teenage boys to get the idea of throwing a few posts on the web about how the "prince" (or whatever target you want) will be at a certain location.

    Then just sit back and wait as all the girls run around frantically, desperately trying to find someone that isn't there.

    More noise == problem solved.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:44PM (#10363679)
    ...than masses of students stuffing themselves into volkswagons and phone booths.
  • by invid (163714) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:46PM (#10363702) Homepage
    Historically, the reason large groups of people could be controlled by small groups is that the small groups were able to coordinate their behavior better. This usually took years of training within a culture of discipline (like the Roman army). Now, with technology, it is easier to coordinate the behaviors of large groups of people. Your seeing more of this sort of thing with grass roots campain activity over the internet. However, this will lead to unexpected side effects which I certainly can't predict, and I imagine has the entrenched powers-that-be worried, because if you're in power you want the general population to be predictable.
  • by csoto (220540) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:50PM (#10363740)
    Like in this movie [imdb.com].

    Arianna H. talks about it [oraculartree.com], too.
  • by Demon-Xanth (100910) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:52PM (#10363762)
    ...British Soccer fans? They show up at a predetermined time, riot, and then disperse to thier home country. And they've been known to cause injuries and death!

    A soccer ball is the symbol of real terror!

  • Text-messaging was instrumental to organizing public demonstrations in the Phillippines that forced President Joseph Estrada from office

    Well, of course they're a security threat! We don't want groups of unimportant people forcing politicians from office, now do we?
  • by xtheunknown (174416) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:56PM (#10363811)
    Flash mobs only pose a security risk if you are a fascist. I think with the advent of the cell phone and text messaging, the possibility of a coup d'etat in the developed world is slim to none. Before any would be junta could consolidate power there would be protests in the street, largely due to cell phones and text messaging. I think this a good thing. It safeguards our freedoms and if a few celebrities have to put up with mobs of teenage girls, then so be it.
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday September 27, 2004 @12:58PM (#10363826) Homepage Journal
    Flash mobs, and the decentralized media systems to organize them, are a threat to the security of the corporate state. It attacks the popularity of the official media, like ABCNNBCBS, which hide their incompetence and complicity behind popularity. The masters of the status quo can't abide the people freely speaking, assembling, and believing whatever they want, when the corporate edifice depends on the consent manufacturing industry producing through the proper channels.

    "Flash mobs" are under attack first, because they've got "mobs" in their name, and most Americans have no other idea of what they are, never having the chance to participate. Once they're on the "terrorist" side of the "with us or against us" equation, look for blogs to get lumped in. I'd expect that by the end of 2005, several of the most reliable websites without FCC-controlled components will have been spiked with "true lies". Like the simulated Bush draft-dodging memos that killed CBS as a messenger of their subsequent Iraqmire documentary. The mediacracy prefers potatoes to surfers.
  • (From TFA:)
    More often, flash mobs have no discernible purpose at all. Last August about 40 people gathered at the Place des Arts in Montreal to toss rubber ducks in a fountain and quack.
    Ahh, the mysteries of what goes on in the little brains of law-enforcement officers...
  • by jbarr (2233) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:05PM (#10363887) Homepage
    Just give the celebs powerful, wearable "jammers" that obliterate all cell phone activity within a two-block radius! ;-)
  • by Techguy666 (759128) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:24PM (#10364098)
    ...My first thought was that terrorists were contemplating using flash mobs to create an instant victim base...

    Sure, you have security crawling all around a popular building - big deal. The terrorist, posing as a fan of say, Britney Spears, creates a flash mob two blocks away from the secured building claiming that she was spotted there - and shows up at that spot with a bomb. Voila, several hundred victims appearing of their own free will, close enough to the security site to create absolute chaos.

    It didn't even occur to me that the Man considered flash mobs to be a threat in themselves... After all, there are certain Amendment rights to make this train of thought silly. I thought that the government was concerned about the public - not their right to assemble!
  • by SlashDread (38969) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:39PM (#10364242)
    I mean, c'mon, burn every "Freedom==security threat" wanker at my account, but the article is fair. Even a Mountie (Well prolly not a mountie, but some IT manager for the Police) was quoted saying "Every twist in technology has benefits and not-so-beneficial things that occur".

    The original Mountie report was quoted to say flash mobs are a "phenomenon to be reckoned with" and they are bloody well right. They are the police. Flash mobs ARE a force. Leddem reckon with it. Thats them jobs.

    I mean, Its not like "The Man" recommended to do away with cell phones entirely or anything, that would be preposterous even in the US of A.
    And this is Canada speaking.

    "/Dread"
  • by Waab (620192) on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:52PM (#10364375) Homepage
    General Jack D. Ripper is already proclaiming: "Mr. President, we cannot allow a flash mob gap!!!"
  • Its banned here.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xot (663131) <fragiledeath@@@gmail...com> on Monday September 27, 2004 @01:58PM (#10364446) Journal
    Its banned in India due to security threats.The police think it can lead to major disruptions.The last flash mob that I heard about was pretty successful with people there for a few minutes.
    All this ws co ordinated through SMS(text messaging). But the main organiser was called up by the cops the next day and asked not to hold any more of such mobs or there would be arrests.I don't think any one wants to face the prospect of an arrest just for holding flash mobs.
  • what the?.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nmec (810091) on Monday September 27, 2004 @02:03PM (#10364517)
    I don't know what the flashmobs in the US are like but the ones here (London) are fun, non-political gatherings.

    Everyone talks as though they're dangerous out-of-control, pretencious politcal statements thought up by flunked out students.

    So far I have been to all but one of the flashmobs here in London and at every single one there has been zero-police presence, but it isn't as though they can't get the information out fast enough or arrange the man-power. Not this minute did I receive an email outlining the next mob in London (a week from now)

    Every time there has been a mob it's on the evening news, and not once has the idea of 'terrorist attacks' surfaced, it is always a light-hearted affair (note this is all post 9/11 as well)

    I think this just goes to show the highly-overzealous and inanity of current thought towards anyone normal having something remotely near un-regulated fun. Not to mention the seemingly constant specture of 'terrorism' and other assorted panic buzz-words 'biological' 'chemical' 'islam' 'mushroom cloud'...you get the idea.

    I'll be going to the mob next week regardless of what all the politcal advisors and sercurity experts say.
  • by mhollis (727905) on Monday September 27, 2004 @02:10PM (#10364604) Journal

    People of a certain age remember when "Television would rot the minds of the youth of America" and "Rock and Roll was 'dangerous jungle music' that would cause uncontrollable urges in today's youth." These were horrified reactions to new media on the part of the more conservative elements of society.

    At the same time, the "conservative" elements of US society applauded when the fax machine in Soviet Russia became a tool for the masses to communicate without government censorship. Yeltsin came to power largely due to mass faxes in Russia (predomanently in Moscow) told the real story of the government coup attempt on Gorbachev. Gorby lost face because he "allowed" it to happen by remaining Communist and a well-informed (via fax) Yeltsen became an instant hero because he stood up to the Red Army generals who wanted Gorby's ouster.

    Obviously, the conservative elements in Soviet Russia didn't think so highly of the fax machine.

    I note one Russian news service is called "Interfax" and, for a while, was a very independant and trusted news agency.

    What bothers me is that laws have been passed to allow the confiscation of cellular phones and other new media devices to prevent the use of these new media for the purpose of organization "against" something or "for" something else. These laws will be selectively enforced to "edit" what kinds of flash mobs will be permitted by governments who wish to use those laws as that kind of tool.

    I would predict that this kind of "editing" will amount to unequal enforcement. For example, were Conservative Christians in the US to "Flashmob" a clinic that offers family planning, there would be few arrests under a Bush government. But a monthly "flashmob," also known as Critical Mass [criticalmassrides.info] was broken up by police in New York in late September because the riders supposedly went where police decided they should not go (even though they were obeying all traffic laws).

    Critical Mass has become a "reason to arrest" for the NYPD only since their August 28th event just before the Republican National Convention. [cnn.com]

    This amounts to unequal enforcement and standing before US law enforcement, as no prior Critical Mass gathering had ever resulted in arrests.

    Critical Mass holds the meets in order to promote non-polluting transportation and encourage the construction and maintenence of safe bike lanes. That doesn't sound like terrorism to me

  • by freality (324306) on Monday September 27, 2004 @02:11PM (#10364616) Homepage Journal

    "Congress shall make no law... abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble..."

    Because it used to, and people couldn't gather and protest the abuse of power. Don't believe the hype.
  • by Kphrak (230261) on Monday September 27, 2004 @02:52PM (#10365100) Homepage

    I'm surprised so many Slashdotters are making such a fuss about law enforcement finding the idea of crowds so unpalatable. Hasn't anyone been in a moshpit before (fun)? Or a riot (not so fun)?

    A large, unpredictable crowd of people showing up, possibly for no good reason, in a possibly dangerous area, is something to be concerned about. Not that I'd advocate banning the technology, but I definitely see where the RCMP are coming from. Mobs are weird beasts at the best of times, and a charismatic figure can get them to do abominable things that they would never even think about doing as individuals.

    As other posters have already mentioned, terrorists could lure bloggers to a predetermined point to maximize casualties in the case of an explosive attack. A quickly-organized protest without any expectation of it by authorities might get the point across to onlookers, but the lack of expectation might also lead to all the problems of a large crowd with none of its solutions -- trash everywhere, smashed windows, snarled traffic....and the possibility of an injurious riot breaking out.

    Now for a moment, switch away from my comment and browse at -1. Imagine the Slashdot crowd all yelling the contents of their individual post at the top of their lungs -- or carrying signs summarizing it, or both -- in the middle of downtown New York. This is (IMHO) a good analogy because New York, like Slashdot, is high-traffic, and usually there are only two or three distinct positions taken on an issue, which can be compared to shouting slogans. Some, not many, of these people have extreme ideas and are willing to commit violence to get this across. Some of them have pointy sticks.

    The reason why this is contained on Slashdot (for the most part) is that everyone's talking at once, but it never cuts off anyone else since you're only reading one at a time. This means that slogans, etc usually aren't required. Even then, an anti-MS post laden with slogans, even faulty info, can be modded up, showing that even this is not perfect.

    You are isolated on Slashdot -- or a blog -- as well. In addition, a certain percentage of Slashdotters (the moderators) are assigned to police the others through (meta-)modding -- this works to a pretty decent extent. The assignment is by fiat and people know who's in charge. A crowd has no such thing.

    Even the crappiest, most reviled blog has far better signal-to-noise ratio than a crowd, and the worst that someone can do is troll...or attempt a DOS. In real life, crowds are really something to be concerned about.

"The only way for a reporter to look at a politician is down." -- H.L. Mencken

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