The Bahraini government has reportedly resorted to some drastic measures in its effort to silence dissent. Citing a recent report from Bahrain Watch, the Foreign Policy blog describes how the government there tricks Twitter users into clicking links that reveal their IP address, thus identifying them for prosecution.
From Foreign Policy:
Here’s how it works. Dozens of shell accounts — many designed to impersonate top figures within the Bahraini opposition — have tweeted links to anonymous Twitter users who comment on Bahrain. The links include spyware that reveals the user’s IP address, which the government can use to identify the name and street address of the person behind the account. From there, it’s simple police work: The government can raid the house and build a case against those living there, usually on charges of “insulting the king.” In total, Bahrain Watch found that more than 120 accounts were targeted by the government in this way.
With the government having crushed large street demonstrations in the capital, the online debate has become the new front line of the revolt. In May, five men were sentenced to a year in prison for violating Article 214 of Bahrain’s penal code, which prohibits “offending the emir [king] of the country, the national flag or emblem.” During the trial of one of those men, Ammar Makki Mohammed al-Aali, an official for the Bahraini police’s Cyber Crime Unit said that his IP address was obtained through “a private way I cannot reveal.”
If such claims are accurate, the report is disturbing. What’s worse is that innocent online bystanders can also easily get caught up in the Bahraini government’s pursuit, should they happen to click on any of the publicly available links.
We’ve seen recent efforts from other governments, such as Turkey, to crackdown on social media users who are critical of government. The country’s deputy prime minister vowed in June to stop protesters from opening anonymous Twitter accounts, threatening, “If someone opens an account, everybody will know who it is.” Short of going as far as the Bahraini government’s efforts, Turkey has increased pressure on social media providers to turn over user data to its government.
But in Syria, the government’s tactics to quash dissent do resemble something more akin to what’s being reported of Bahrain.
From the Christan Science Monitor:
Luring opposition sympathizers with tainted video links in e-mail, fake Skype encryption tools, tainted online documents, hackers believed to be allied to Syria’s government have in recent months deployed an array of powerful spyware with names like DarkComet, backdoor.bruet, and Blackshades. Available on the Internet, these malware are used to infiltrate the personal computers of opposition figures and rights activists and send back information on their friends and contacts as well as passwords, cybersecurity experts say. The impact of this spying is hard to gauge. But even as the physical battle intensifies in and around Damascas, Syria cyber watchers are worried.
Human rights and free speech organizations are likely to keep a close watch on how the situation in Bahrain develops.
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