Former Tunisian Regime Goes Beyond Spying On Internet Traffic… To Rewriting Emails & More

from the they-wrote-what??? dept

Most people instinctively appreciate the dangers of government surveillance. But at least it’s possible to be on your guard when you suspect such surveillance may be present by taking care what you write and send. You might even use some industrial-grade encryption for the important stuff.

The problem with that is it’s simply not practical to expect all of your contacts ? to say nothing of your grandparents ? to do the same, which means that at least some of your emails are going to be exchanged in the clear. And as this fascinating Bloomberg report about the surveillance activities of the former Tunisian regime reveals, that creates another kind of vulnerability that concerns not only what you send, but also what you receive:

Asma Hedi Nairi, a former Amnesty International youth coordinator, says e-mails she and her friends exchanged were replaced by messages ranging from random symbols to ads for rental cars. Opponents of the regime toppled in January?s revolution received threatening messages such as ?you can run but you can?t hide,? while people with no role in politics found their correspondence snagged if it inadvertently included words flagged as critical of the government. Ammar 404 even damaged reputations by inserting pornographic images in work e- mails and routing intimate photos onto Facebook, Nairi, 23, says.

It’s a clever approach, whereby people start to attribute a deep, possibly troubling meaning to what is in fact nonsense, or begin to doubt the trustworthiness of their online contacts.

What makes this story particularly disturbing is that practically all the technology used to carry out this disinformation campaign in Tunisia was provided by Western companies, who seemed to view it as a test run:

Western suppliers used the country as a testing ground. Moez Chakchouk, the post-revolution head of the Tunisian Internet Agency, says he?s discovered that the monitoring industry gave discounts to the government-controlled agency, known by its French acronym ATI, to gain access.

That’s yet another reason to resist Net surveillance for any reason (hello, copyright industries): once surveillance equipment manufacturers have their foot in the door it can only be a matter of time before they start extolling the virtues of Tunisia’s more thoroughgoing approach to online spying.

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Comments on “Former Tunisian Regime Goes Beyond Spying On Internet Traffic… To Rewriting Emails & More”

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The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

Why anything in Africa should matter to anyone is beyond comprehension. Vital minerals and resources? Wait until one regime or another takes power, and then pay them off to get what you need. If they fall? Pay off the next crop of losers. And on, and on, and on. That’s the way things have worked over there forever. Virtually every single one of these festering pest holes has no geopolitical significance, other then raw materials, most of which can be obtained elsewhere in a pinch. Who cares?

vancedecker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

Part of the Jesus cult mentality is that everything has to have consequences* even if they don’t. So for cases where there are none, they set about creating some.

(*except big banks and CEO’s because they create jobs and are doing god’s work in other bigger more important ways)

That’s why these nut bags hate the morning after pill.

vancedecker (profile) says:

Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

Well the problem is that we can’t get a lot of these rare earth metals elsewhere in significant enough quantities. Same thing with Oil in the middle east, surrounded by a by a bunch of incoherent nuts wearing drapes and yelling a lot.

God clearly is quite the huckster, probably laughing it up with his Angel friends all the way to the Gates mansion.

bigpicture says:

Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

Well you might care if Iran develops Nuclear WMDs and also the capability to deliver them on your home town. I think your very self centered opinion and lack of human concern might be effected by that. Either the US will be involved, or Russia, China some other country that does not care about your interests.

vancedecker (profile) says:

This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

Perhaps miss International Coordinator needs to get one of her friends ‘who knows computers’ to run a anti-virus anti-malware sweep before she starts hurling wild accusations against a bunch of people who probably know even less than she apparently does about computer security.

But, let’s just, as an intellectual exercise, take this hysterical article at face value. I think that it’s probably just a courtesy, and she’s acting like it’s the end of the world.

For instance, say that the government made it illegal to say that anything negative about certain corporations programming choices after a lobbying effort. Now I’m not a lawyer, I can’t possibly know all of the nutty laws they’ve passed and substances they have made illegal to posses.

Now what if I in the course of an email, I was to offend one of our new corporate overlords by lamenting the fact that “Discovery”/”Learning”/”Science” Channel’s programming is racing to the bottom of the human debris pile with their newest ‘educational’ program Punkin Chunkin.

Now the software in this case will identify the violation and simply remove it and send me a warning, thus saving me the embarrassment of breaking the law and going to jail. I think it’s quite clever and a great way to market a product internationally. Is Techdirt against small business entrepreneurs now?

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