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Tactics Used Against Flash Mobs Questioned

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 (UPI) — The use of cellphones and Internet social media open a door into the world of technology-aided crime, a Rhode Island-based criminologist said.

Using cellphones and Facebook, bands of young people have come together in flash mobs to steal goods and assault bystanders.

Complicating the issue is whether police or other authorities should be able to block cell service in an area as a way to deal with a crime that might occur, observers said.

“You’re looking at an emerging form of crime,” Sean Varano, a criminologist at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., told Friday’s USA Today. “We don’t know what power these police agencies have to monitor these Web sites or where … reasonable expectations of privacy start.”

Surveillance cameras photographed several dozen youths participating in flash mobs, swarming convenience stores in Germantown, Md., and Washington, stealing armloads of snacks and drinks while store clerks watched, unable to do anything.

Officials in San Francisco were criticized for their actions last week when Bay Area Rapid Transit police temporarily blocked cellphone service because activists planned a protest.

Such tactics are common in places such as Iran or Egypt but not in the United States, some observers said.

“I’m deeply disturbed by the idea that a government agency will shut down cellphone service if they suspect there is a planned protest,” said Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group for digital and electronic rights.

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