Report: Belarusian mobile operators gave police list of demonstrators

According to this unsourced report, the Belarusian mobile operators have cooperated with the country's secret police to provide a list of everyone who was in the vicinity of an anti-government demonstration; the spooks are now calling in everyone on the list to interview them about their involvement in political dissidence. I'd love to see a better-sourced version of this article, but it's technically possible for the operators to have logged every phone near a given tower at a given time.

This is one area where I really agree with Evgeny Morozov, who has written extensively about the risks that technology use poses to demonstrators: at present, mobile phones are not fit for purpose. Mobiles are too closed, the mobile operators too vulnerable to be considered safe enough for use against powerful hostile states. Unless your mobile-driven protest ends with the collapse of the state, it's all too likely that you and your friends will face dire reprisals.

It's one of the reasons I'm so anxious to see more free/open phone operating systems, which open up possibilities for IMEI spoofing, anonymizing tunnels through proxies, etc. But until there's widespread adoption of open handsets, your phone is eminently capable of finking you out.

Mobile operators rat out all demonstrators (Thanks, Svabodu!)


    1. So the lesson is: Turn off your phone when you are going to protest.
      I agree, but its too bad for people who just happened to be in the area.

  1. It’s one of the reasons I’m so anxious to see more free/open phone operating systems, which open up possibilities for IMEI spoofing, anonymizing tunnels through proxies, etc. But until there’s widespread adoption of open handsets, your phone is eminently capable of finking you out.

    In the meantime, if you live in the United States:

    10 Goto any convenience store outside your neighborhood, buy a TracFone. Pay in cash.
    20 Be mindful of cameras, on the way there and in the store itself. Perhaps wear a hoodie.
    30 Register the TracFone at a payphone (they’re still around), giving bogus information to the automated system which asks for your name, address, etc. Again, be mindful of surveillance cameras.
    40 Activate the phone (i.e., receive the initial signal and place initial test calls) in a neighborhood other than your own. Consider charging phone with car charger as you randomly drive around the city.
    50 Add time via prepaid cards, paid for in cash, same precautions as in 10 – 20.
    60 Keep the phone until it needs to be deployed. Store with battery removed (not merely with phone off), or if phone needs to be on, in a location not identifiable as your home, place of work, etc.
    70 Goto 40 whenever time/minutes need to be added.

  2. Exactly, this is the sort of thing drug dealers have been doing in this country for years. IF they did enable you to put all that other stuff on your mobile, they if you ever got picked up, there’s almost no good reason for having it, other than to evade tracking, while the pre-paid phone has a variety of uses.

  3. If you need communications at an ‘event’ turn off your phone or go to airliner mode although you risk loosing your smartphone to beating, confiscation and search, or water cannons. Instead get a FRS radio or the European UHF equivalent they are cheap, get about 1km range in urban areas, and lastly they do not send out your unique ID every time you talk.

    John Napsterista had the right idea, maybe get one of the double SIM gadgets on ebay for your legit/burner SIM’s but the IMEI needs to be changed if you want to use it anonymously.

    Does the N900 have an program to hack the GSM radio IMEI? I used to have a service program for an old Motorola that could do unlocks and IMEI resets but it required a serial cable and laptop.

  4. During the recent London demonstrations rioters outmaneuvered the police by coordinating their efforts via cellphones. Wanna bet at the next demo the cops have frequency jammers.

  5. As John Napsterista rightly points out, switching off or turning your phone to “airline mode” isn’t enough. Unless the battery is physically removed it will still respond to pings, and is very much trackable.

    1. Or just don’t take your phone.
      LOL! Where’s the fun in that? How can you film the police beating your best mate or twitter it if you don’t take your phone? :-)

      1. get one of those small form factor HD video cameras… there are some that look like mobile phones as well while you’re using them… Kodak Zx1 springs to mind as I have one, they have others out now as the Zx1 is on the back end of the tech curve and is being heavily discounted to get rid of stock…

        sadly, you can’t stream upload stuff in the thick of action though…

  6. Dutch (and probably also British) cops have been doing this for awhile, to find out who attended some football riot or another. If you expect at all to engage in a long-running argument with your government and it is a particularly obnoxious one, plan ahead. Get a disposable phone early on.

  7. Er, um… why is this so surprising? Our own police and FBI in the US do this at protests regularly. Why the outrage for Belarus all of the sudden?

    1. It’s so, when you offer an example of the police and/or FBI doing this in the US, we’ll have illustration available to say, “man, this country is getting as bad as Belarus!”

    2. “Why the outrage for Belarus all of the sudden?”

      I think a good explanation can be found here:

      “A glance at the CIA World Factbook reveals the real reason why Belarus is not considered a member of the “community of democracies”:

      “Belarus has seen limited structural reform since 1995, when President Lukashenko launched the country on the path of ‘market socialism.’ In keeping with this policy, Lukashenko reimposed administrative controls over prices and currency exchange rates and expanded the state’s right to intervene in the management of private enterprises. Since 2005, the government has re-nationalized a number of private companies.

      “In addition, businesses have been subjected to pressure by central and local governments, including arbitrary changes in regulations, numerous rigorous inspections, retroactive application of new business regulations, and arrests of ‘disruptive’ businessmen and factory owners. Continued state control over economic operations hampers market entry for businesses, both domestic and foreign.””

  8. Vodafone is a partner of the 2nd biggest mobile company operating in Belarussia, A1 Telekom Austria. Turkcell a big player as well (all according to Wikipedia). Not necessarily insinuating anything of course.

    1. Probably better off using a walkie-talkie.

      Illegal in many places. Singapore is one place which comes to mind. But it also makes be think of what could be done in this day and age with a peer to peer mesh network communications device. Build them light and rugged. Each node would only have to talk to another node a few hundred metres away. Use a low power frequency hopping design and make it intelligent so you won’t get caught by interfering with the police or army.

  9. A generation ago, you’d have been labeled a paranoid schizophrenic if you said:

    They would have microphones everwhere all networked together.
    They have tracking devices planted on almost every person.

    Not only do “they”, loosely speaking the government and corporations, have this, but those devices also know all of your friends, and can snoop on your reading, snapshots and communications.

    Just food for thought. Of course we pay to carry them.

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