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]