Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” (vice.com)
297 points by f_salmon on Jan 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments

German police have been doing this for some time already with anti-nazi protesters: https://www.eff.org/issues/mandatory-data-retention/germany (search for dresden)

And in a case of luxury car arsons: http://www.businessinsider.com/berlin-arson-cell-phones-2012...

So the only new thing here is that the protesters got notified.

Anti-Nazi protestors? Or Nazi protestors? I'm confused by this, it was my impressing that being a nazi (neo-nazi) sympathizer in Germany was illegal in the first place. Seems like a weird group to be angry about if they are Anti-Nazi protestors as the page claims.

Is that incorrect?


There's some light(?) political right bias in some parts of the German police.

I'm not saying that german cops generally are nazi sympathisers but you're more likely to meet a right leaning cop than a leftist one.

That happened yesterday, and at least two major Ukrainian mobile operators stated [1,2] that they have nothing to do with these SMS broadcasts and that pirate base stations were probably used in the area of the disturbance.

[1] Kyivstar FB page: https://www.facebook.com/kyivstar (Ukrainian) [2] MTS Ukraine FB page: https://www.facebook.com/MTSUkraine (Ukrainian)

"Always leave a way out, unless you really want to find out how hard a man can fight when he's nothing to lose." (The Wheel of Time)

The reddit thread has a lot of good comments actually: http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/1vtpa8/dear_subsc...

that idea comes from art of war

Yep, from Sun Tzu's Art of War:

"When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard."

-- http://classics.mit.edu/Tzu/artwar.html

I think this is also the first time I've heard it quoted in an appropriate context, as opposed to business blabla.

To quote coolsubmission on reddit:

This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair." Tu Mu adds pleasantly: "After that, you may crush him."

Also comes up in discussing the types of ground. "Death" or "desperate" ground is where you fight at all costs, since otherwise the cost is death.

unless you get saved by eagles

You must not follow the Syrian Civil War very closely!

It's amazing people don't understand this is an elaborate mass prank. Pirate base stations have been present in the area since the disturbances began, already being used for nefarious purposes before (SMS/money transfer fraud and so on). Whoever operates these is a petty criminal, not a nefarious government – if I'd have an opportunity to send thousands of protesters anything I want, I'm sure I'd pull a prank like this as well.

A healthy sense of skepticism is helpful in cases like this (both ways). Do you have a source to share to show how this specific instance was a prank? I wouldn't put anything past the Ukranian government now, and they could have just as easily sent the message themselves.

This specific instance might or might not have been. I'm just telling you that the pirate base stations have been operating in the Maidan area and have been used for nefarious purposes since November at least. Knowing some of the petty phreaking criminals that do stuff like this, I assumed that it's much more likely to be a prank.

Do you have any sources for that claim?

The only valid angle to your theory is that the government may very well not bother sending such a text - they'd just register the participants and arrest them later.

It's not the message that's the concern, it's knowing who to send the message to.

Base stations aren't cheap. I guess it's possible that some reasonably well-funded and very sophisticated criminals have one lying around, but it really seems like a stretch.

The pirate station equipment is not so expensive, and in fact, petty phreakers use it pretty frequently to do basic SMS frauds in heavily populated areas. Maidan protesters have found themselves on a receiving end of false-station SMS frauds since November, so we know for a _fact_ that criminals do operate them.

The government could as well, of course, but I'm going by an Occam razor here.

The fatal flaw is that you have to believe they would stop trying to make money in order to partake in a profitless operation that has military attention.

Aside from that, sure why not? Prank.

What do you mean by “military attention”?

I mean tanks have been deployed, not just APCs. Military[1].

[1] http://youtu.be/NSQ989fCrbU

Setting aside the validity debate for a moment, this is unsettling to me (as a US citizen) in that we all know the US has the ability to use their monitoring data to do this very thing (and much more), so should they choose. The big difference is that the Ukranian government yanked too many civil liberties and rights too soon instead of the gradual removal that we've got going on over here.

As you watch this unfold (fellow US citizens), remember that we are not so far removed from what you are seeing streamed your way. I hope that spooks you as much as it spooks me.

Well at least they notify first.

US police would just start beating you and throwing you into pens, if you are lucky you won't get coated in pepper spray or hit by a sound cannon.

Watch the DNC and RNC conventions next year for examples with their multi-million dollar taxpayer funded "security".

But I guess this indicates police everywhere can now just record the phone numbers of everyone in the area to mark people for "watching".

Arresting everyone is expensive and requires lots of people on the ground. This is worse because it instantly marks every participant (that brought a cell phone), and there's no telling how those people will be discriminated against in the future. It allows consolidation of power in a smaller minority than physical responses and provides less visceral imagery for the populace to be outraged over.

I'm sorry, but it's cute when Americans think they have it worse.

The fear is that the rate at which escalation occurs is tightening significantly, especially with regards to the mobilization of a civilian populace.

It stands to reason that the rate at which escalation occurs directly correlates with the usage of violence by a government, and that the correlation is with the rate of escalation rather than the maximum level of tension.

Or, more to the point, the level of violence applied by a government depends on how quickly shit hits the fan rather than how badly of a mess there is.

If shit hits the fan in America, it will hit it very quickly.

It is not that they really think it is worse, it is just easy to get up votes by claiming they are.

I think it's "cute" when people in other countries can actually fight the police.

If there was even the smallest "attack" on police in the US, every person at the riot would be dead, beaten and imprisoned, or hunted down, which is why this never happens fortunately.

Um, stonewall was nearly 50 years ago.

Have you seen the police at demonstrations this decade? They are para-military equiped. Body armor, fully automatic weapons, even mini-tanks from decommissioned iraq/afghan military use. I am not exaggerating.

> police everywhere can now just record the phone numbers

I remember that the dutch police some years ago already used so called "sms-bombs" to contact mobile phone subscribers that were around a crime scene months before.

It is simply inherent in the technology. You wear a mobile phone? (not even smart) So you are traceable with all consequences.

The solution? In any case not technical in nature. We will see.

My friend (I don't know him in person, we work together remotely) told me that he has 3 cell phones: one at home, one at the work-place and one always turned-off in his car (for emergency). He doesn't wear a cell phone with him. When someone wants to contact him he/she calls him on one of his home/work phones judging from the day time, if he doesn't answer the call he calls back when he reaches home/work place and sees unanswered calls.

Two years ago when he told me this I thought he is a tinfoil-hat paranoid person but now I know he is right.

He's not being paranoid enough. A guy with a cellphone that never leaves the home? Any decent data analysis software should flag such an odd behavior. If one's not willing to fully disappear off the map, the safest behavior is to provide "boring" data in order to blend in with the crowd.

Or you could just, you know, not carry a radio-transmitter on you while committing some possibly illegal/disruptive activity?

One could not want to have some legal but disruptive to certain interests or usable as future blackmail material captured, stored and analyzed.

Just turn it off?

That's ok if you have the money.

But if you hang out just a little bit with pot heads in eastern Europe you know the best solution is to turn off your phone and take the battery out when you don't want people tracing you or lightening to your conversations.

There is only 1 real solution:

Put your cell phone in flight mode and use it exclusively as a PDA/music player/etc.

Let people contact you on a landline and email - more than enough.

I'm pretty sure this doesn't work. i.e. even in flight mode, the baseband processor is still powered and will passively listen for cell-tower requests, so presumably it can still be told to wake up?

I know its true of phones that are "off" without the battery removed - stands to reason it applies in flight mode too.

Technically this isn't true, at least not as a blanket statement regarding all phones.

Since the power button is a 'soft' switch, controlled by the phones operating system, it's possible that a phone can be compromised so that even if it appears to be 'off' it is actually still powered up and listening to the cell network, but this is in no way a 'standard' feature. The same attack vector/vulnerability is present for flight mode, a compromised phone can lie and report that the radio is off when malicious software is using it.

Removing the battery is a mechanism to preclude any possibility of your phone being exploited, and may be appropriate depending on your risk tolerance and/or threat model.

Can also go into recovery and nuke the baseband stack modem.img since wifi only needs the application OS kernel.

I've not seen any evidence this is the case without explicit tampering with the phone (i.e. installing spyware which then fakes the 'off' state in software).

It's in the patriot act that the government is allowed to do it, so I'd imagine it is possible.

afaik, actually wrapping the phone in tinfoil blocks the signals pretty well. try it, you can't call a phone wrapped in tinfoil.

if you have a tinfoil lined bag (like a thermo lunchbag), it's even easier than removing the battery.

Flight mode does not make you untraceable - it just makes your phone less useful.

If you're doing something illegal, or talking to someone about something illegal, leave your phone at home, and use your $15 dumbphone with an unregistered throwaway sim.

Or rather, buy a PDA/music player rather than a phone.

Where can I buy one of those? Haven't seen an MP3 player or a PDA for sale in ages.

That's a good idea. You won't be able to stream something live anymore, though, but I guess either you record it and later upload it to websites, or some people will have to take the chance to stream it.

Get a burner phone, even from a different country. I have a Russian and French sim cards and keep your phone off unless you really need to make a call.

Check that the phone's IMEI isn't also being associated with each of those SIM cards and your regular one.

Just switching SIM cards may change what account info you're using, while still providing plenty of information for determined investigators to use.

It can be technical in nature, but the society needs to request it from the carriers and also the government to allow them to have such high security in place, and not allow them to wiretap and have access to everything. When the government says "but we need access to everything to catch a criminal". The society must respond "Oh yeah? Well screw you - I think my privacy is more important, and I want better end-to-end security for my conversations and metadata".

The solution can be political, too, and it would certainly help, but I think it's a lot less sustainable from government to government.

But "society must respond" is a political solution, not technical.

For those who (like me, until recently) don't know about this amazing feature of democracy in the US: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_speech_zone

I know! In the US you have "free speech" zones. You can get fenced in and say whatever you like. How is that any better? We have governments that are entrenched and don't want to change. They use their powers and then the majority of people are shocked when they find out.

I don't think the world has changed much since WWII, just that the crimes are more nuanced and better hidden.

> But I guess this indicates police everywhere can now just record the phone numbers of everyone in the area to mark people for "watching".

Combined with the "meta-data" collected by the NSA, they can easily probalistically identify the core members of any dissident group to focus their national security efforts on.

I do not seem to recall reading stories about mass incarcerations at OWS or similar pseudo-protest spots.

I do agree that the conventions should not be afforded public protection, however those two conventions are an extension of the ruling party. The one percent are more than willing to have us foot their bills.

Two people were shot by the police yesterday, warned or not.

> Well at least they notify first.

This comes from Soviet Union's militia mentality that people aren't enemies. It already changes as Ukraine (and other former republics) fully converges to democracy.

It was a post-notification that used historical geo-information like who was in a particular cell tower's coverage area. It only came out before the law enacted to counter what is going on kicked in. A man was shot and killed a few hours ago by Kiev police[1]. Now an APC is deployed[2] while both police[3] and protestors[4] trade Molotovs.

Here is a live feed of the scene, which is essentially an on-going street battle now[5].

[1] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BelRC9RCUAAbRNZ.png [2] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BelT6nzCcAAWytp.jpg [3] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BeljSy1CMAANJFo.jpg [4] https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BelVNWSCQAAr1l-.jpg [5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrZcAsPKK74

edit: Video of the police scuffling with citizens in the street during the man's shooting then dragging his body away, along with an interview with the man that filmed it was submitted and published by the BBC[1].

[1] http://youtu.be/MvC6-OzVM_I

Wow, currently there are fires made by protesters. Not sure if the police is on the other side receiving the smoke from the fire.


It's probably more to stop the police from moving in a line than to smoke them out.

The tone of this message reminds me of the game Paranoia[0]


The only thing that sucks about Paranoia isn't even the games fault, as the wikipedia claims, when written in the 80s it was full of dark humor and tongue in cheek jokes, but American culture has changed so much since the game was invented that it now reads more like a DHS employee manual or Fatherland Security mission statement or whatever.

It should be required reading for kids, maybe college kids. See kids, this RPG is how things are now WRT security, but a generation or two ago, it was merely a punchline. Americans haven't always been cowards.

Jim Morrison said it best (screaming):

"You're all a bunch of fucking slaves." ...

"Maybe you like being pushed around." ...

"Maybe you love getting your face stuck in the shit." ...

"How long is it going to last?"

If we're going in that direction, how about Rage Against the Machine? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWXazVhlyxQ

Or to pivot a bit toward the current state of affairs worldwide, Random is Resistance - War on Error. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aE6RtzwVdHI

Sure, RATM too, it's in my playlist. It's just hilarious hearing Jim Morrison trying to piss off a stadium full of people on a scratchy live recording from the 70's... If it's not coprophilia, necromania, incest, then it's a political statement that doesn't make it into any B-sides. You've got to wonder how much is thrill of manipulation, cowtowing and how much is authentic political motives. (Jim Morrison obviously didn't give a fuck about much.)

The Doors discography:


RATM discography:


"first published in 1984" - such a nice coincidence...

That reminded of a quote:

"Anyone in the United States today, who isn't paranoid, must be crazy"

What is your level of clearance, citizen?

We have similar anti demonstration laws in Spain. We have to ask for permission from the government to demonstrate against the government. If you don't have the signed paper, you can be thrown in jail or get huge fines. This shit is getting scary, as they are slowly removing our rights. Only difference now is that they don't really hide it anymore as they don't care.

Combine this story with this one [0] and guess what that means for the future of the US.

[0] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/04/nsa-storing-cel...

I wonder if this doesn't encourage people. I mean, they're unhappy with an increasingly oppressive government - won't showing them just how oppressive it can be just tell them they're doing the right thing here?

This would be doubly interesting if the message really came from spoofed base stations as apostlion claims.

It will show them just how oppressive it is. After enough killings and beatings, however, they will not be so sure they're doing the right thing here.

Source: lived in a totalitarian state. The guys who can kill and maim without being held responsible have little reason to fear the masses, as long as they can put up enough violence to contain them.

This is just a cellular version of a guy with a megaphone calling on people to disperse. BTS is the megaphone.

The problem is not in the technology. It isn't even all that useful to the regime. They already know where the protesters are. The problem, as always, is in the baton they hold in the other hand.

I disagree. When they use a megaphone they don't know who the people are, as they are telling them to disperse. Now they have exact lists of who participated. Every person's name is in that list. They can target them individually one by one, home by home, if the revolution fails to overthrow the government, now.

Also, when you build authoritarian systems, they are going to be used by authoritarians, sooner or later. It's like saying it's ok to have a censorship infrastructure, like the Great Firewall, as long as it's not owned by the people with "batons in their hands", sort of speak.

Yeah, except that once you have a system that is an authoritarian's dream, it seems pretty damn hard to stop people like that from abusing it. And ultimately, you can only stop them with revolutions - violent revolutions, in most cases. I'd rather people wouldn't have to go that far to not be oppressed by their government.

When they use a megaphone they don't know who the people are

Of course they do. Communists had been kicking people out of universities, withholding passports from protesters, and organizing mass internments back in the 80s and before.

They'd take pictures and ask around the opposition circles. Or arrest a few people and make them give up the rest. Not to mention willing, paid, or coerced informers planted in the invigilated organizations. And you can bet many people working for security forces in Ukraine today remember those times and techniques well.

There have been authoritarian regimes as far back as written history goes. We here like the tech angle, but let's not attach too much weight to it. It's a great story, I upvoted, but technology is not crucial.

That something is possible does not detract from the weight of making it orders of magnitude easier. Noting participants and tracking them down later has always worked ... but tech verging on applying those actions classic actions automatically and instantly is very significant. Used to be it could take days/weeks/months to "get" some of the participants; now we're not far (if not already there) from correlating cellphone tracking, face recognition, etc to automatically freeze their funds (credit/debit included), suspend driver's licenses, issue arrest or "person of interest" warrants, and otherwise disrupt & hinder the bulk of participants before they even leave the protest site ... maybe not outright arrest & prosecution, but pushing back hard with little/no human involvement.

Communists had been kicking people out of universities, withholding passports from protesters, and organizing mass internments back in the 80s and before.

The same as their counterparts in Capitalist Democratic America of the same time period.

The technology and the ideological bent are both irrelevant I'd say. With the exception that technology has just made the process a whole lot easier and has greater potential for abuse. All the old things are true, but now there are new, faster, more advanced methods to use!

It's not an issue of where the protesters are, it's who the protesters are.

I'm getting increasingly concerned that (USA in particular) police focus on staying out of the way and, so long as things don't escalate much, letting the situation run its course ... while documenting the participants by any means, so they can be individually & quietly apprehended & prosecuted later. Cell phone metadata, face recognition from video recordings, license plates, etc - all can be applied to identify who was involved, accusing them of all sorts of crimes just for being present if not for particular documented transgressions.

Much easier to apply the baton later when the mob can be handled as lone individuals. Gotta know who though, and that's not hard now.

> while documenting the participants by any means, so they can be individually & quietly apprehended & prosecuted later.

Has this happened?

It's certainly known that they do the tracking part - in the UK as long as a decades ago you'd see police at demonstrations with cameras catching as many faces as possible (and weren't secretive about their purposes). What they then did with that information could range on a scale from nothing to conspiracy theory level, I'm not sure.

I don't know per se. I've heard some vague references to it. Main point is it's so possible & compelling I'm having a hard time believing it's not happening. Some things are, in fact, not well known despite our firehose-style media.

It would be interesting to conduct a survey whether people agree to 'dissent detection by use of technology'.

I wonder how opinions between laymen, politicians or religious people would differ. I think the toughest part would be ensuring survey is not too suggestive and respondents are not lying.

Does this make sense tactically?

Consequence 1: Protesters believe they are marked for the gulags, and must go "all the way".

Option 2: Don't tell the protesters, but mark them for the gulags. Round them up at night when they are less likely to mount a response.

So basically leave your cell phone at home, if you plan on being near a protest especially if you are going to be participating?

Cameras that are not attached to phones I suppose will become more popular at protests anywhere such a system is in place.

"To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape"

* Sun Tzu(544-496 BC), The art of war.

>This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is "to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair." Tu Mu adds pleasantly: "After that, you may crush him."

Ukraine is a democracy. Why not vote for the other guy next time? How does it make sense to go out and burn and break things instead.

Because it isn’t really a democracy; the amount of corruption hasn’t really changed at all since The Orange Revolution[1].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Revolution

From that very article, "Yushchenko was declared the official winner and with his inauguration on 23 January 2005 in Kiev, the Orange Revolution ended." Democracy worked.

I suppose you must come from a country where rampant corruption is the norm to understand what "declared the official winner" actually means.

For those who want to learn about this issue through an investigative news story instead of one of Vice's opinion pieces:


Not to take away from the story, because it's downright awful, but in Ukraine, most phones use pay as you go burner sims. That's what I used when I went there. I picked a sim card up for $1.

My point is that fortunately, most of those phones are not tied to you and your social security number like phones in America.

Changing SIMs might be useless, since the carrier can track phones by their unique IMEI ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imei ) and when you use another SIM on the same phone to talk/chat to your friends, 'gov sigint' can use that information to get to you.

... coming to a united kingdom or state near you soon!

Edited: so soon that it's already happened: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/12/massive-domestic-mo...

Hey guys. For those concerned, please support ukrainians, Euromaidan is in strong need for financial donations http://www.helpeuromaidan.info/donate

There is an upshot to this and the (over-)reliance of the surveillance state on technology - leave your cell phone at home when going to a protest or riot and never be suspected of being a participant in the first place.

Isn't some of the tracking of cellphone tower data part of the reason how Adrian Hernandez was caught?

This makes me want to get my Mass Disturbance on.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact