Cool internet capabilities can be used for censorship and suppression of dissent

The Wall Street Journal has been running a series of posts on how technology can be used for censorship and surveillance of government critics. They call their series CENSORSHIP INC.

Today’s article, Life Under the Gaze of Gadhafi’s Spies, continues a discussion of how not-so-nice governments can track dissidents in real-time.

This long-running series is showing the downside to the cool, nifty technology that we enjoy today.  That same stuff used to make your web browsing so wonderful and allows me the platform to pontificate in this blog, can also be used by dictators to suppress dissent.  From today’s article discussing the experiences of Mr. Khaled Mehiri, a human-rights advocate:

Mr. Mehiri’s tangle with the Libyan surveillance apparatus shows how U.S. and European interception technology, though often exported for the stated purpose of tracking terrorists, could instead be deployed against dissidents, human-rights campaigners, journalists or everyday enemies of the state—all categories that appear in Libyan surveillance files reviewed by the Journal.

After the government fell, WSJ reporters gained access to the monitoring room where the tracking was done.

There, a wall of black refrigerator-size devices inspected the Internet traffic, opening emails, divining passwords, snooping on online chats and mapping connections among various suspects.

Information on the people being tracked was printed and stored in the adjacent office:

In an adjoining room, a file on Mr. Mehiri, bound in a green folder marked with the name of Libya’s internal-security service, lay amid scores of others stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves. It shows he had been subjected to electronic surveillance at least as far back as August 2010 and as recently as last February.

The file consists of dozens of pages of emails.  I am guessing that the difference between the Libyan monitoring operation and Western intelligence operations is that the Libyan staff had to print e-mails of interest, file each page in a binder, put the binder on a shelf, and pull out the binder to do research on targets.

Check out this article, past articles, and watch for future updates.  I’m guessing there will be lots to read.

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