The controversial Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) is likely to be widely used in the aftermath of the rioting that has swept London, Birmingham and Liverpool in recent days.
RIM has promised its full cooperation with police, after claims that its BlackBerry Messenger service was being widely used to coordinate riots and looting.
RIPA is extremely wide ranging and can require organisations to hand over message data to the police "in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in the interests of public safety, for the purpose of protecting public health, for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable."
The police can then subject this data to traffic analysis, highlighting the message sources, the devices linked to those messages, and with geo-location data gathered from network operators, they could build up a rapid picture of data who was where and when.
Correlating this information with CCTV footage could give the police lists of suspects to target.
Under the terms of the act, RIM and the network operators do not have to make public any police request for information under the RIPA Act, and do not have to declare that any information has been handed over to the police.