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Your call is very important to us. Kazakhstan takes control of all mobile phones

Photos from Rferl.org

Starting from the new year in Kazakhstan, mobile phones that have not undergone mandatory registration will disable communication. Not only telephones are subject to registration, but also all mobile devices: modems, routers, tablets, smart watches. To avoid the battle scenes in the offices of mobile operators, they spent the whole of 2018 on this campaign and provided an opportunity to register not only through personal attendance, but also via the Internet.

The owner of the gadget is obliged to inform your IIN (individual identification number), IMEI (subscriber device code) and the actual number of the smartphone. When I registered my mobile, they also asked for my home address.

The administrator of this innovation was the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC). Back in February, Minister Dauren Abaev explained her need for a rather curious reason: “When the phone is registered this way (with the device’s IMEI code associated with the owner’s IIN and subscriber number. Note from the author), mobile phone theft will become meaningless.”

Then the officials began to repeat this idea in every way.

On April 1, Vitaly Yaroshenko, deputy chairman of the State Control Committee in the field of communications, informatization and the media, provided asimilar motivation: “This [registration] is done in order to facilitate the work of the bodies that carry out search operations, search for stolen phones, search for criminals and solve crimes” . And it was not an April Fool’s joke.

In June, at the Internet forum in Astana and in November at the OSCE conference “Journalism of the Future”, I myself heard the same version about neutralizing “mobile kleptomania” from Ruslan Abdikalikov, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Information Security of the Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry, and Michael Komissarov, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Information MIK.

In the end, private business began to echo statemen. The other day, Natalia Eskova, head of communications at the Kcell mobile operator, “set up a base”for registration: “First of all, it will help reduce telephone theft and the gray phone market.”

There was a lasting impression that the responsible speakers seemed to have conspired and repeated the same legend.

IMEI codes on the smartphone screen. Photo author

Hit the cap to the head, then do not steal

For comments, I turned to a well-known human rights activist, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Yevgeny Zhovtis.

Yevgeny Zhovtis. Photo by Roman Egorov

– Yevgeny Alexandrovich, the mandatory registration of mobile devices is officially explained by the need to prevent their thefts. The initiator of registration is the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC). What do you think, why did the humanitarian department bother with law enforcement issues?

– Let’s start with the fact that there are no such ministries in civilized countries. There are councils that know the frequencies for broadcasting television and radio channels, and they are public, so that there is no state interest. And there are providers of various kinds of technical services: the Internet, cellular communications, etc., – ordinary private companies that are in no way associated with the content, with the information that is transmitted.

Since Soviet times, we have all the information – this is an ideological sphere that needs to be controlled. The question is how? In the USSR, there were jammers, censorship, Glavlit and other structures whose task was to prevent the penetration of information “harmful to the public.”

In perestroika, censorship seems to have been banned by the Constitution, but they retained control of the information itself. You know or not, but against one of the proposals of our IIC, which limits “harmful” information for children related to LGBT, four UN Rapporteurs made a sharp statement.

That is, we have the topic of information, directly or indirectly, all the time spinning in the context of control: what is possible and what is impossible.

– But here we are talking about private information, which is transmitted by telephone.

– Yes, about live information. But today the phone is a mobile device with a computer, applications, mail, messengers, where information comes and goes. Interception systems – that of telephone conversations, that of Internet messages, that email – are constantly being improved. For example, the Russian SORM (a system of technical means for ensuring the functions of operational search activities) obliges providers to store data about subscribers – this is part of the same construction related to control over information.

Who is in control? From the standpoint of combating extremism and terrorism, the National Security Committee is its theme. But notice who else is active in the field of prosecution for the dissemination of information: this is the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Information and Communications, even akimats (district, city, regional administrations). And prosecutors.

– I will add the Information Security Committee of the Ministry of Defense and Aerospace Industry, which was involved in the closure of the portal Ratel.kz.

– With the development of technology, these structures are increasingly interested in mobile communications: how to control it? Sometimes this is done under the frightening pretext of fighting terrorism. And sometimes under the specious: the phone is stolen from you, and we know where it is, and we will help to find it, and that’s why you need to register it.

“But they don’t put electronic keys on the car, alarm systems or car mirrors, which killed the pet of all of Kazakhstan, figure skater Denis Ten , for compulsory registration . Although these precautions could seriously reduce the number of thefts and car thefts.

– The keys, alarms and mirrors do not carry information. Unlike a mobile phone.

“I remember that in the Soviet times, typewriters were put on record at the KGB….”

– And copiers! Not because they wanted to steal, but because they produced information.

Therefore, both before and now all efforts are connected with the main motivation – information control.

Equipment for wiretapping cellular. Photos from the site Opengsm.com

When, at the end of 2016, amendments were made to the law on countering terrorism and extremism, and again issues related to the invasion of privacy were raised, curious facts surfaced.

If you remember the case of Bokaev and Ayan , it featured a wiretapping of phones, which was carried out without any criminal case, just as part of operational search activities, even before any complaints were raised against the activists.

That is, we are not guaranteed from anything. And I make a very simple conclusion. Every time when the state (in this case, the Ministry of Information and Communication, which performs purely ideological functions), which usually does everything primarily for a loved one, says that it wants to help you, you are overcome with doubts. And you begin to suspect: what is behind this? Unfortunately, a wealth of experience shows that there is another additional limitation. So that we are afraid to transmit any information at all. As in Soviet times, when it seemed that every phone was tapping, and no one was especially frank about it. And this is one of the main problems.

In democracies, legislation in this area develops along the path of protecting privacy. First, mechanisms, tools and ways to prevent abuse are created. To avoid any temptation to use this information for commercial and other purposes.

If you remember the Bellingcat investigation, which caught comrades who poisoned Skripale, the journalists installed them by purchasing a database with addresses and phone numbers at a flea market in Moscow. In our countries with a high level of corruption, where everything is sold, personal information can be at anyone, including crime.

Therefore, when they tell me that registration is introduced for my own good, I think that somehow I will sort it out myself so that the phone is not stolen from me. I’m more interested in my conversations being protected. Otherwise, I will have to meet with the person personally in a crowded or deserted place to avoid extra ears – the state or a third person.

And I look at the registration of mobile devices with great doubt and suspicion.

– Why, do you think, another IIN and home address are tied to the phone to make it easier to find a person by number?

– Well, of course! All linked in one chain. And when they say that the registration of the phone is for my own good, so that it is not stolen, then I answer: if you fight street thefts, you need to nail the caps to your head – they are also removed.

But seriously, it is obvious why this is being done: Big Brother must have convenient technologies for surveillance.

Vadim Boreyko

Material: International Information Agency “Fergana”

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