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Ukraine's Big Brother Text: "Dear Subscriber, You Are Registered as Participant in Mass Riot"

Text comes amid clashes as new anti-protest laws take effect

by
Lauren McCauley, staff writer

"Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass riot."

That was the message received by all mobile phone users who were in the vicinity of protests in Kiev, Ukraine Tuesday morning.

In what many are saying is a move straight out of George Orwell's novel 1984 the Ukrainian authorities are using cutting-edge pinpointing technology and presumably a "pirate" cell phone tower to intimidate and track protesters.

The phrasing of the message echoes the language used in a new anti-protest law that makes it a crime to participate in a protest deemed violent, "the passing of which served as a spark for the radicalization of the protest movement over the weekend," the Guardian reports.

The law went into effect on Tuesday, and calls for jail sentences of up to 15 years for participating in mass riots.

The Ukrainian government appears to be using cutting-edge targeting technology, most commonly used by the advertising industry, to pinpoint the locations of cell phones in use near clashes between riot police officers and protesters, the New York Times reports.

As Vice reporter Brian Merchant notes, "Using a cell phone near a clash lands you on the regime's hit list."

The Times continues:

Three cellphone companies in Ukraine — Kyivstar, MTS and Life — denied that they had provided the location data to the government or had sent the text messages, the newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda reported. Kyivstar suggested that it was instead the work of a “pirate” cellphone tower set up in the area.

The text message was intended to frighten some of the more moderate protesters, protest leaders said, as the more radical demonstrators erected barricades and clashed with security forces in a street battle which has been ongoing since Sunday. The tension is the culmination of a months-long demonstration during which over a million people marched and peaceably occupied government buildings in growing opposition to the ruling government of President Viktor Yanukovich.

The Guardian continues: 

Prosecutor general Viktor Pshonka issued a statement on Monday calling the disturbances in Kiev "crimes against the state". Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, said he had tried to listen to peaceful demands but would use "all legal methods provided for by the laws of Ukraine to guarantee public safety." 

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