However, authorities may not be able to access the full wealth of data available to telecoms companies because of legal restrictions.
Guidelines require police to find out individuals’ identities first before obtaining records from trouble spots.
Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, has already said that it will be cooperating with investigations, and pointed out that it is legally required to hand over subscriber information when it relates to criminal activity.
The company’s BBM instant messenger has been identified as one of the services used by rioters to coordinate their actions.
Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), police can apply for details of a customer’s phone records, including their location, details of calls made and received, and internet activity.
Police would be unable to carry out a broad-based search, identifying, for example, every person who was in Clapham Junction sending the word “riot”.
Initial identification data would likely need to be taken from video, photographs, CCTV footage and other intelligence.
Those limits mean telecoms subscriber data becomes useful additional evidence, rather than a first port of call.
Despite the restrictions, some legal experts believe there is scope to push RIPA guidelines further than they have been in the past.
That basic information could be used to narrow down suspects worthy of further investigation, without violating either data protection or RIPA guidelines, he explained.