Ukraine government sends text to protesters: "Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance"

Ukraine's dictatorship is revelling in its new, self-appointed dictatorial powers. The million-plus participants in the latest round of protests received a text-message from the government reading Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.

The identification of protesters was almost certainly accomplished with a "Stingray," a fake cellphone tower pioneered by police in the USA, who routinely and secretly deploy them around cities and especially during protests. The Stingray tricks nearby phones into associating with it, giving police a census of who was where, with whom, and where they went. A federal judge found this to be legal, even without a warrant, because he believes you have no expectation of privacy when it comes to having your movements and associations tracked by the police in secret.

Which is to say that the thing that the Ukrainian police did to those protesters is something that US police forces do routinely to protesters, all the time. The only difference is that American cops don't brag about the fact that they are building dossiers on participants in peaceful, lawful protests by sending taunting and intimidating texts to protesters. Instead, they just build the databases in secret against the day that they're looking for a pretense to arrest someone.

The moral of the story is that when you build surveillance technology, you load a weapon that will be inherited by every government that is to come. Oakland PD's playful, murderous shenanigans -- aiming tear-gas cannisters at protesters' heads -- are on a continuum, and at the other end of it are governments like the Ukrainian state, where they've mobilized tanks against their citizens to crush a popular uprising, and further along, there's Syria, where they're operating modern death-camps.

The cause of freedom in the 21st century is inextricably linked to resistance of technological surveillance. It's in the development of technology that obeys its owners (for example, being able to root your phone in a way that is undetectable to apps and carriers); in the right to report bugs that expose people to surveillance by governments and creeps without being prosecuted.

It's in establishing the principle that technology should do what it is told by its owners, and that it shouldn't be designed to lie to its owners. This is why it's a Big Fucking Deal that the W3C has paved the way for DRM in every browser, which means that it will become impossible to use most of the Web unless you are running closed systems that enjoy special legal status that makes it illegal to report bugs in them, ensuring that everything that touches the Web will have code with long-lived, secret bugs in it that creeps and crooks and governments can use to pwn the devices' owners.

There are people who will sneeringly tell you that this is about whether "information wants to be free." This has nothing to do with the nonexistent desires of "information." This is about people wanting to be free, and the fact that freedom in an information society requires that a "freedom layer" be designed into the technology that handles information on our behalf.

Maybe the Most Orwellian Text Message a Government's Ever Sent [Brian Merchant/Vice]

Notable Replies

  1. "Citizen, please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply. You now have 15 seconds to comply. You are in direct violation of Penal Code 1.13, Section 9. You have 5 seconds to comply. 4. 3. 2. 1. I am now authorized to use physical force."

  2. IRMO says:

    Dear subscriber: you are on our list. You can wait until we get around to giving you the knock in the middle of the night, or, you can unite with everyone else who got this message andf fight together.

  3. hallam says:

    It is terrible tactics, similar to the Egyptian government decision to shut down the Internet. The latter was the best thing the government could do to build the protests. Once the Internet went out, the only way to find out what was going on was to shut off the computer and go out into the street. It was also seen as proof positive that the Government was weak and on the brink of collapse.

    The government is widely considered to be illegitimate, having stolen the 2010 Presidential election with a rules change during the election designed to make fraud easier. The former Prime Minister is currently in jail on trumped up charges. Such a government can only rule by intimidation. The last parliamentary election was in 2007 and it is unclear if there will be another.

    But the key to intimidation is to pick off a few people at a time, make an example of them and go on to the next batch. Telling everyone that they have been registered as a dissident and should report to the gulags for incarceration and murder gives the game away too soon. The government has just told the opposition that they have nothing to lose.

    There will also be a lot of children of politicians caught up in those sweeps. And that could well prove decisive. Ukraine has a parliamentary system (for now) and a revolt by MPs can bring down the government.

  4. I'm sure it was just the work of "hackers" and that there were only a couple hundred people who got the text (probably rabble-rousers themselves).
    Because a government that just banned: driving in columns of more than 5 cars, participation in a gathering while wearing a helmet or uniform clothing, setting up of tents/stages/sound systems without police permission, disrespect of a court, failing to obey a request to limit internet access, failing to obey the state security apparatus, defamation, blocking access to a house, distribution of 'extremist' materials, group violations of public orders, 'mass disruptions', collecting information on police officers or court officials, threatening a cop, NGO/church activity in 'extremist activities', punishment of cops who commit any crime against protesters, among other things would never do something as horrible as surveilling the local populace in order to send them a spooky/Orwellian text message, amirite?

    Thanks Penny!

  5. The main problem in the Ukraine is that country is operated by president tightly linked with the criminal. People is can't tolerate lawlessness from government and policy. People can't tolerate to the weird things that police special forces ( Berkut ) is doing with people :
    There is many known incidents of the of the bullying, kidnapping and murdering which is performed by policy forces.

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