“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”
This is the message received by thousands of people participating in the ever escalating protests in Kiev, Ukraine. The protests, which began late last year as a result of the government backing out of a treaty with the EU, mostly believed to be because of pressure from the Russians (who would lose a key ally in the region). Recently, they have been spurred on even further by laws passed by Ukrainian parliament last week, laws that prohibit the wearing of masks or helmets, ban the blockade of public buildings (for which there could be a jail sentence) and a ban on unauthorised tents in public areas (tents such as the base of protests in Kiev’s Independence Square). But then this Tuesday, protesters received the threatening message, sparking even more violence. Whilst the Interior Ministry denies that they sent this message, there are a few options:
Option 1: The Interior Ministry are lying, or potentially unaware, and the message originated from the Ukrainian government. This currently seems the more likely option. Opposition to the government in Ukraine have suggested that the message was sent in an effort to further exacerbate fighting, thus discrediting the protesters. If true, it is deeply discouraging in terms of achieving some sort of peace down the line. When the government responds to protests by 1) imposing anti-protest laws and 2) sending threatening messages, and 3) generally be quite aggressive, that tends towards escalation. Which is never a particularly good thing.
Option 2: This message has been sent by a third party for reasons unknown. Pranksters, other governments, aliens, this option is pretty open. You’d think however that the government would be quite keen to identify them and prosecute in an attempt to pacify relations. If they don’t really bother, then that does look mighty suspicious.
Option 3: This is a stunt or ruse by the protesters to try and garner international sympathy, most of whom are equally fed up of people spying on them. In the wake of pretty much any government intelligence agency with a surveillance programme, which is most of them, it would be a very clever way of motivating international, and more specifically western, support. However given that the tactics used by protesters so far haven’t been quite as sophisticated, this seems rather unlikely.
Either way, all that this mystery text seems to have achieved is to rile the protesters up even further. Which at the point of being particularly volatile is no good thing. Additionally, it is some small indicator of how terrifying technology can actually be in the hands of authorities. By tracking the usage of mobile phone, locating them near where the violent clashes have been occurring and then having enough information to text them, it demonstrates quite how much technological power that governments have. Effectively, thousands of people have been identified as protesters in a country where being a protester is rapidly becoming a dangerous thing to be. In the wake of last years revelations regarding the full extent of US government surveillance of pretty much everyone, this sort of thing continues to terrify.
True, it could quite well have been scare tactics, sending some slightly less committed protesters away tails ‘tween legs. But that simply leaves the more violently disposed left, who are now deeply enraged about getting threatening text messages. Considering that there have been 3 deaths already, this is deeply worrying and gives consideration as to if this sort of mass technological scare tactics could be used further west.