By Paul Carrel
France's government is policing cyberspace as well as rundown suburbs
in the battle to end two weeks of rioting.
Young rioters are using blog messages to incite violence and
cellphones to organize attacks in guerrilla-like tactics they have
copied from anti-globalisation protesters, security experts say.
Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has diverted resources to
monitoring blogs -- short for Web logs -- in an effort to anticipate
the movements of the protesters, who have set fire to thousands of
cars since the unrest began on October 27.
Two youths were placed under official investigation, one step short of
pressing charges under French law, early on Wednesday on suspicion of
inciting violence over the Internet after urging people to riot in
blogs, a judicial source said.
But tracking rioters' blogs is a big task for the security services,
already stretched by the violence on the ground.
"This is a new dimension to take into consideration," said Internet
security expert Solange Ghernaouti-Helie.
"To do the tracking on the Internet to identify the people involved is
without doubt possible. But it requires considerable surveillance and
analysis resources," she said.
Blogs are easy-to-publish Web sites where millions of people post
commentary. Those allegedly posted by the two youths under
investigation were made in online diaries hosted by Skyblog, a Web
site belonging to popular youth radio station Skyrock.
Skyblog's site says it hosts over three million blogs, with thousands
added each day. One of those urging people to riot -- since
deactivated by Skyrock -- read: "Unite, burn the cops."
Some bloggers have urged people not to incite violence.
The host of bouna93.skyblog.com, a memorial blog for the two youths
whose deaths sparked the riots, urged contributors to respect the dead
boys, adding: "It would be preferable not to make racist, fascist
comments or to give rendez-vous spots."
Youths are also using cellphones to coordinate the violence, mainly
blamed on frustration over racism and unemployment, and to evade the
police once the riots are underway.
"Text messages and mobile phones ... help small groups of rioters,"
said criminologist Alain Bauer. "They can connect easily. It's not
only a way to avoid the police, it's a way to organize the fires."
The rioters have learned from anti-globalisation protesters, some of
whom have used cellphones to coordinate riots at meetings of the Group
of Eight industrial nations and the World Trade Organization in recent
years, Bauer said.
"I think they learned from what they saw on television. I think
anti-globalisation movements and rioters have the same way to organize
-- or to disorganise the police," he said. "It's old guerrilla tactics
with modern technology."
The political establishment is also harnessing technology to amass and
The ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) has tapped into intense
Web traffic searching for information on the unrest to try to rally
support for the tough line taken against rioters by Interior Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy, the party's president.
Since the weekend, searches on Google for words such as "riots" or
"burned cars" in French have thrown up a link to a UMP site where
readers are invited to put their names to a petition supporting
Sarkozy's policy of "firmness."
A UMP official said more than 12,000 people had registered their
support via the online petition since Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Thierry Leveque)
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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