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Amnesty Says Belarus Using Telecoms to Spy


According to Transitions Online the government only lets communication companies operate in country if willing to provide nearly unlimited data to authorities, says report.

A report published by Amnesty International shows how the government of Belarus is pressuring telecom firms to provide them with user information in order to “stifle free speech and dissent.”

Mobile phone companies operating in the country are required to give the government almost full-on access to their customers’ communication and data. The Belarus government does this by asking companies to become compatible with the technical system SORM (an acronym that translates to “Hardware System for Search Operations”), which allows the authorities direct access to user accounts without asking permission from the company.

This, in its turn, has a detrimental effect on the work of activists, who live with the constant fear of being arrested because of their activities, said Joshua Franco, Technology and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Companies that operate in Belarus have to let authorities have the data they want, when they want it. So if the KGB, for example, wants to spy on them, they don’t need to show a warrant, they don’t need to ask the company to give them access,” Franco also told Amnesty International.

America Movil, parent company of Telekom Austria, Turkcell, and MTS, the three largest telecom firms operating in Belarus, didn’t respond to any of Amnesty International’s requests for comment.

Meanwhile, last week, four human rights organizations sent a joint letter asking the United Nations to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Belarus’ human rights record.

Among the items listed, these organizations wanted the Special Rapporteur to push for the end of the “harassment of independent or opposition journalists, government critics, and civil society organizations.”

A 2015 report by Freedom House scores Belarus as “not free” with some of the worst abuses of human rights in the world. The 2015 Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index ranked the country 107th out of 175 countries and territories examined.

Amnesty International’s report also noted that Belarus’s Law on Mass Media allows the Ministry of Information to access web content without a court order. The law also makes website owners liable for user-generated content posted on their sites.

This past January, freelance journalist Larysa Shchyrakova was fined 4 million Belarusian rubles ($240, or 217 euros) by the government for “contributing to foreign media without having any accreditation.”

Internet service providers and Internet cafes in Belarus have been required since 2012 to keep records of users’ personal data, the time they spend online, and which websites they visit. The relevant law also prohibits most government offices and schools from accessing several dozen websites, including the Charter’97 opposition website.

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