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"Subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance"
January 21, 2014 2:12 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times is reporting that anyone with a cell phone in the vicinity of Tuesday's anti-government demonstrations in Kiev received the following text message: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

The Guardian adds:

The language echoed the wording of tough new laws on public gatherings, the passing of which served as a spark for the radicalisation of the protest movement over the weekend. The laws went into effect on Tuesday, and provide for jail sentences of up to 15 years for participating in mass riots.

Prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka issued a statement on Monday calling the disturbances in Kiev "crimes against the state".


The Washington Post notes:

As eerie as the text message may seem, it was likely not technically difficult to achieve. Presumably, authorities could determine who was in the vicinity of the protest by going through the records of nearby cell towers. In the United States, that type of information can be requested from mobile providers in the form of "tower dumps" which reveal the locations of hundreds or thousands of innocent citizens associated with a specific cell tower, along with suspects. A recent congressional inquiry shows that U.S. law enforcement made more than 9,000 requests for tower dumps in 2012.
posted by ryanshepard (65 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
You can spy on the protestors yourself, if you want.
posted by pompomtom at 2:20 PM on January 21


Dear Anarchists: Remember to put your phone in airplane mode before throwing that rock through that Starbucks window.
posted by smcbride at 2:20 PM on January 21


Dear Anarchists: Remember to put your phone in airplane mode before throwing that rock through that Starbucks window.

Probably no need. Agent provocateurs never serve time.
posted by anonymisc at 2:24 PM on January 21 [74 favorites]


Dear Anarchists: Remember to put your phone in airplane mode before throwing that rock through that Starbucks window.

hi smcbride, you seem to be posting from 1999. Please double-check your Ethernet cable to ensure it is not fifteen light-years long
posted by theodolite at 2:26 PM on January 21 [65 favorites]


It is interesting to read folks like Sean Wilentz (whose piece is linked in a thread from earlier today) who seem to claim that folks like Snowden have gone overboard in whistleblowing on these sorts of abuses, as if it can't happen here. Except that it already has.

At least there is now some public scrutiny over this sort of metadata abuse on a federal level. I worry about local (city- and state-level) authorities now using their budgets to set up wireless mesh networks, like the kind the Seattle Police Department set up last year, in secret. Seattle's metadata gathering tools might be disabled for now, but they will probably get turned back on once people tire of stories about illegal surveillance and go back to regularly scheduled distractions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Dear subscriber: you can wait for our thugs to round you up when it's your turn, or you can decide RIGHT THE FUCK NOW that you have nothing left to lose.
posted by ocschwar at 2:27 PM on January 21 [16 favorites]


15 years for protesting! How barbaric! That could never happen here!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:28 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Just turn the damn thing entirely off--- after all, I imagine it'll be too loud to make a phone call, too rowdy with too much shoving in the crowd to text, and it's hard to pay attention to your cellphone while in the midst of your average riot.

(Please note: I admit I haven't participated in a good riot in a couple decades.)
posted by easily confused at 2:30 PM on January 21


. . . or you can decide RIGHT THE FUCK NOW that you have nothing left to lose.

This seems to have been the takeaway - from the NYT piece:

The messages appeared to have little effect. Three hours after they were sent, riot police officers pushed past barricades of burned buses at that location and were met by a crowd of protesters in ski masks and bike helmets, carrying sticks and ready to fight.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:30 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


In America or Britain, this would never happen. You'd merely get a few extra points in your automatically generated NSA/GCHQ dossier, with the result that your communications, web browsing histories and GPS locations and those of people connected to you would get pulled into more searches. In most cases, you'd never even know.
posted by acb at 2:34 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


I would almost appreciate the honesty of a government sending that message.
posted by Hoopo at 2:46 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


It doesn't seem fair to implicate everyone in the vicinity who weren't necessarily participating.
posted by bleep at 2:51 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


It doesn't seem fair to implicate everyone in the vicinity who were participating.

FTFY
posted by donpardo at 2:54 PM on January 21 [16 favorites]


Anyone have a pic or text of the original cyrillic?
posted by Skorgu at 2:56 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


It doesn't seem fair to implicate everyone in the vicinity who weren't necessarily participating.

It is. But they have effectively outlawed protesting, are employing agent provocateurs, shooting people with rubber bullets and tear gas, and are kidnapping protest leaders. Frankly, the phone thing is the least of their abuses, if the creepiest.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:00 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Not disagreeing. That was just something that jumped out at me.
posted by bleep at 3:04 PM on January 21


IIRC the Ukraine has a history of successful public action. Seems to me that their current government is essentially inviting a popularist uprising through these tactics. Enjoy the whirlwind, fellas. Maybe try learning from history next time.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:10 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Your participation in an internet discussion about government surveillance has been duly noted.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:12 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


First Hungary, now Ukraine. What the fuck is going on over in Eastern Europe? Is it dictatorship chic for governments over there?
posted by Talez at 3:13 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Anyone have a pic or text of the original cyrillic?

I believe this is legit. Other examples embedded in the comments.
posted by mazola at 3:22 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


15 years for protesting! How barbaric! That could never happen here!.

Robo, while I hope the nun doesn't serve time, she did break into a (not so) secure nuclear military installation. I'm against law enforcement trying to stop peaceful assemblies of protesters in public spaces, but can understand how we only want authorized personnel hanging out with the nuclear weapons. That protest was an act of civil disobedience, and she was prepared for legal ramifications. America is doing a lot of awful things, but there are better examples than the one you cited, methinks.
posted by el io at 3:24 PM on January 21


mazola that text is awesome. the reply is basically "kiss my revolutionary ass."
posted by prefpara at 3:27 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


This may be overly cynical, but i am really not looking forward to the social media jerkoff-fest of "OMG DAE 1984 PANOPTICON POLICE STATE? WE ARE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS SHEEPLE!"

I think something may have been plugged in backwards during a recent service checkup of my brain, because that was seriously my first reaction to this. All the misinformed hyperbolic garbage that western SJ warrior types are going to spit about it.
posted by emptythought at 3:31 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


First Hungary, now Ukraine. What the fuck is going on over in Eastern Europe? Is it dictatorship chic for governments over there?

The situations in the two countries are unrelated. The government of Ukraine would be more profitably likened to that of Russia or Belarus.
posted by Thing at 3:35 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Interesting: according to an article linked in the comment thread, mobile operator Kievstar denies any involvement and pins the blame on "pirate base stations".
posted by hat_eater at 3:36 PM on January 21


In the comment thread of the fb page linked by mazola, I mean.
posted by hat_eater at 3:38 PM on January 21


Seems to me that the warning serves two purposes:
1. intimidate those who plan to participate
2. have record of those present who then do participate

I have no tech background but why not:
1. take batteries out of cell phones so they can not record your presence
2. tell the govt types to use cell jammers to keep communications between and among participants useless.
posted by Postroad at 3:44 PM on January 21


I'm against law enforcement trying to stop peaceful assemblies of protesters in public spaces, but can understand how we only want authorized personnel hanging out with the nuclear weapons.
If a protesting nun is the unauthorised personnel hanging out with your nuclear weapons you are very lucky and she is the very least of your problems.
posted by fullerine at 3:56 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


Your phone was calculated to be in the presence of rioters and was not in the legally-prescribed free speech zone, citizen. Please report to the detention center immediately.

Can't wait until drones get into the mix, too, on both sides.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:13 PM on January 21


who needs dystopia when you've got reality
posted by nikoniko at 4:18 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


I have no tech background but why not:
1. take batteries out of cell phones so they can not record your presence


Dear subscriber, your phone, which is typically on 24/7, went offline from 3pm-5pm yesterday, which corresponds with a demonstration that took place in your part of the city. Unless you can provide documented evidence of your whereabouts during that time in the next 48 hours, you are subject to arrest.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:38 PM on January 21 [13 favorites]


take batteries out of cell phones so they can not record your presence

That's quite a bit of work for an iPhone.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:49 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


First Hungary, now Ukraine. What the fuck is going on over in Eastern Europe? Is it dictatorship chic for governments over there?


Ukraine has historically been divided 50-50 between Eastern Catholics and Orthodox. That division is more profound than the red-blue divide in the States.
posted by ocschwar at 4:54 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The 'pirate base station' line is interesting, because it's certainly possible. There's a Cell Broadcast function in GSM and 3G that sends a text message to all mobiles logged into a base station - it's mostly there for emergencies and the like (or, if you're Sherlock, to spam a police press conference). And if you've got a IMSI snatcher, which is basically a pirate base station masquerading as a pukka cell, any mobiles on the network you're spoofing will log into you instead of the legitimate network, providing your signal is stronger. Yes, that's a known vulnerability. So, you CB from your fake cell.

However, to do this for a lot of mobiles, especially on a variety of networks, is a pretty tall order for someone who's just in it for the lulz. It would be easier - I'd say probably easier either than IMSI snatching or tower dumping the subscriber data - to find a way to activate the cell broadcast system in the legitimate network. Depending on how this is set up, it could already be an option for the authorities to do this without involving the operators; otherwise, it could be a plausible-deniability job of complicity.

Cell broadcast has the attribute that you can do it without knowing the identity of any subscriber connected. So if you just want to put the willies up people and leave fewest fingerprints, it'd be my method of choice for what happened.
posted by Devonian at 5:02 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


understand how we only want authorized personnel hanging out with the nuclear weapons.

I might prefer the weapons in the hands of the nun than the authorized personnel, actually. (They weren't authorized by me :) )
posted by anonymisc at 5:06 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


(I should add that if you do have IMSI snatching capabilities, you can use the same technique to monitor all calls and texts in your fake cell, so this is almost certainly something that a moderately paranoid state apparatus would have in a mobile, easily deployable format, for all your surveillance needs.

App-level end-to-end encryption, people, it's the only way to be sure...)
posted by Devonian at 5:08 PM on January 21


Dear subscriber, your phone, which is typically on 24/7, went offline from 3pm-5pm yesterday, which corresponds with a demonstration that took place in your part of the city. Unless you can provide documented evidence of your whereabouts during that time in the next 48 hours, you are subject to arrest.

1. Turn on TV to a channel you commonly watch, with the volume just a bit louder than normal.

2. Load up a very long YouTube playlist on your phone.

3. Tape the phone to the top of a Roomba, with some foam padding in between to reduce the thumps of the Roomba knocking into things.

4. Set your bedroom clock radio to start also playing music a few hours later.

5. Start Roomba cleaning cycle, leave the house.

The data logs that would be referenced show data logs of separate individual videos being viewed, slight differentiations in signal strength and GPS data as it is moved around your home by the Roomba, and all sorts of background noise if for some reason they were actively listening in.

The loud TV is to irritate the neighbors enough that they can be remember the annoyance if asked, but not enough that they would check on you.

Congratulations. You have now made the aforementioned "1984 PANOPTICON" work for you. However, don't get cocky about it. Now you've embarrassed them and made them mad. Best to leave town before things get worse.

NOTE: This odds are this will only work once, so chose your moment carefully.
posted by chambers at 5:18 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]



Dear subscriber, your phone, which is typically on 24/7, went offline from 3pm-5pm yesterday, which corresponds with a demonstration that took place in your part of the city. Unless you can provide documented evidence of your whereabouts during that time in the next 48 hours, you are subject to arrest.


Protip: if about to do anything subversive, wait until you're somewhere with no signal (a subway/metro perhaps?) and then switch off your phone.

“Commissar, I had a long tube journey to do some shopping, during which I decided to relieve the monotony by playing Angry Birds. Unfortunately, my phone ran out of batteries some 30 minutes into it, and I didn't get to a recharger until I got home.”
posted by acb at 5:21 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


NOTE: This odds are this will only work once, so chose your moment carefully.

Could The Authorities tell the difference between a phone in the pocket of someone who's inside a building and a phone lying motionless on a table just from GSM tower readings? I suspect that atmospheric conditions and the presence other phones and other objects would change the signal strengths, and cause a stationary phone to periodically hand off between nearby towers (if there are several). Unless the authorities have spyware on phones which keep track of accelerometer readings and send idle times to them periodically.
posted by acb at 5:24 PM on January 21


Could The Authorities tell the difference between a phone in the pocket of someone who's inside a building and a phone lying motionless on a table just from GSM tower readings?

Perhaps not, but the GPS data is accurate enough on a iPhone that I can tell which end of an apartment it's on if I misplace it. I live in a place where my phone connects to different towers depending on which side of the building it's on, so YMMV.

Addendum - make sure you've got a few apps with location services running. Perhaps the Maps app open in the background as well, directing you to a place across town, or the 'Find My Friends' app open, perhaps.
posted by chambers at 5:30 PM on January 21


Why you give Baba trouble? Is bad enough just going to shops to buy tea and kovbassa. I talk to your mother- she wants to die of shame. Is this what you want? This makes you happy?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:34 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


First Hungary, now Ukraine. What the fuck is going on over in Eastern Europe? Is it dictatorship chic for governments over there?

Global economic crisis does that. Totalitarianism and ultranationalism is an attractive way out... one fraught with its own consequences. Protests erupting into open rebellion being one of them. Russian tank brigades to "preserve democracy" in 3... 2... 1..
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:36 PM on January 21


One of the problems with "airplane mode/take out battery" is that mobile devices have been pretty important in organizing recently, at least that's my understanding. The twitter and stuff.
posted by Hoopo at 6:56 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


> In America or Britain, this would never happen. You'd merely get a few extra points in your automatically generated NSA/GCHQ dossier

Which through the magic of Fusion Centers and Parallel Construction can end up with the FBI or local Police investigating you not for funding or planning terrorism, but for drug, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, copyright infringement and puppet making.
posted by morganw at 6:57 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Which Side Are You On, Humans? The Machines Are Keeping Track
posted by homunculus at 6:58 PM on January 21


In America or Britain, this would never happen. You'd merely get a few extra points in your automatically generated NSA/GCHQ dossier

Which through the magic of Fusion Centers and Parallel Construction can end up with the FBI or local Police investigating you not for funding or planning terrorism, but for drug, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, copyright infringement and puppet making.


The Techno-Militarization Of America
posted by homunculus at 7:12 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Creepy as it may be, this shouldn't be a surprise. Knowing roughly where a handset is in 3 dimensions relative to a set of cell base stations is how a cellular network works. It's not intrinsically some Kafkaesque thing (unless specifically used as such like this). It's fundamental to how the system works, as long as you want things like being able to drive down the road and keep a call going is important. And the ability to say "do this thing to handsets in this area" is also part of the system. It's how I get NOAA warnings and child abduction alerts specific to my area, and how E911 emergency service is suppose to work. Since the accuracy of this metric is arguably "within tens of meters at best", the protesters need to craft a story around that inaccuracy. And mitigate correlating data sources...
posted by kjs3 at 7:49 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


What Location Trackers Know About Your Phone
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:15 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Since the accuracy of this metric is arguably "within tens of meters at best", the protesters need to craft a story around that inaccuracy.

If the state is down to such tactics, I don't think they care very much if they get it right: after all, the objective is intimidation, not justice - accuracy of tens of meters is good enough for that. It might even be more effective: people who are not part of the demonstration now have a good reason to keep a clear distance, getting those people to choose sides is what the demonstration is actually about.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:28 PM on January 21


Ironic but you all sound a lot like my friends that many of you call "gun nuts". A very healthy discussion of just how much we should trust those who wish to govern us with all their good intentions. It means that I am not on the reverse 911 grid that being the very service that would make me available to the "government" for such a message.
posted by OhSusannah at 1:24 AM on January 22


OhSusannah: Relevant.
posted by Drexen at 4:16 AM on January 22


Ironic but you all sound a lot like my friends that many of you call "gun nuts". A very healthy discussion of just how much we should trust those who wish to govern us with all their good intentions.

There's a small difference though: the balance of good versus bad reasons for the state to be regulating guns is not the same as that for sending or not sending vaguely menacing text messages.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:54 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Not the first time a government uses a “pirate” cell tower.

One case involved Julian Assange’s current home at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where visitors were surprised to receive welcome messages from a Ugandan telephone company. It turned out the messages were coming from a foreign base station device installed on the roof, masquerading as a cell tower for surveillance purposes. Appelbaum suspects the GCHQ simply forgot to reformat the device from an earlier Ugandan operation.
posted by DreamerFi at 5:59 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Holy, fuck. The latest from Kiev is not good. THe regime is clamping down, and I bet Russia's in a 1956 kind of mood.
posted by ocschwar at 10:53 AM on January 22


Any one else think of Lauren Beukes' Moxyland when they read this?
posted by Fence at 11:56 AM on January 22


The messages appeared to have little effect. Three hours after they were sent, riot police officers pushed past barricades of burned buses at that location and were met by a crowd of protesters in ski masks and bike helmets, carrying sticks and ready to fight.

Oh, the messages probably had an effect all right, and effect on whether people turned off their phones or left them elsewhere.
posted by yohko at 11:57 AM on January 22


Ukraine: A new island of dictatorship in Europe
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


The situation in Ukraine seems to be deteriorating quickly, there are calls for snap elections after two protesters have died from bullet wounds (Guardian link).
posted by Ned G at 3:41 AM on January 23


Some links about the recent situation I've collected:

Videos:

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/23/opinion/ukraine-unrest-dictatorship-lutsevych/?hpt=hp_t1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25868765

http://www.csmonitor.com/layout/set/r14/World/Europe/2014/0122/Kiev-protests-turn-deadly.-A-line-crossed-in-Ukraine-video

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/jan/22/kiev-protests-intensify-ukraine-day-national-unity-video

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/jan/22/ukrainian-police-barricades-kiev-violence-video

Photos:

http://hypervocal.com/news/2014/ukraine-protest-video-game/

Livefeeds:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/01/22/ukraine-is-on-fire-literally-watch-the-live-video-feed-of-massive-protests-in-kiev/
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:12 AM on January 23


Live updates from the Kyiv Post. (Warning some graphic images/video possible NSFW).
posted by Kabanos at 10:27 AM on January 23


Protester PR blog and Facebook page
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:29 AM on January 23


Supposedly there's this "Right Sector" (Pravyy Sektor) group that has been influential, but a small minority, within the protests. Its agenda seems to be anti-EU, anti-Russia, pro-nationalist. It is made up of both Ukrainian and Russian speakers. It is a leaderless, autonomous group drawing its base from other right-wing sectors. It has been responsible for some of the first violent acts (on the protester side) during the protests, and it seems that other protesters are following their lead with respect to tactics.

Sources (and obviously some of these have an axe to grind):

Ukrainian far-right group claims to be co-ordinating violence in Kiev

Profile: Ukraine's 'Right Sector' movement

Far-Right Ukrainian Opposition Group Vows 'Guerrilla' War'

Three dead in clash between Ukrainian regime and right-wing protesters

The violence in Ukraine is wrong – but we'll keep fighting for our freedom

Shadowy Ukraine far-right group at frontline in clashes
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:36 PM on January 23


Revolution in Kiev, Ukraine
posted by homunculus at 10:21 AM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, Turkey is responding to recent protests by clamping down on communication: Saying Goodbye to Internet in Turkey
posted by homunculus at 2:33 PM on February 6


Ukraine security forces torch #euromaidan's IT tent, kill journalist, beat tech protester to near-death
posted by homunculus at 1:30 PM on February 20


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