â€œDear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.â€
The above disturbing message was sent to street protesters during riots in Kiev recently and is generally attributed to Ukrainian authorities, local phone carriers or to a hackers group.
The three Ukrainian cellphone companies â€“ Kyivstar, MTS and Life â€“ denied having anything to do with the incident. They said they have never been asked to reveal their subscribersâ€™ location during the street clash and didnâ€™t send the Big Brother-style SMS. They even pointed said hackers may have used rogue cellphone stations to send messages that appeared to come from the carriers.
Civil liberties advocates across the world asked local carriersâ€™ for proof.
â€œIn a ruling made public on Wednesday, a city court ordered Kyivstar to disclose to the police which cellphones were turned on during an antigovernment protest outside the courthouse on Jan. 10,â€ writes the New York Times. Unfortunately this order covers just one day before the protests.
“This incident highlights how location metadata â€” contrary to NSA defenders’ claims that such data isn’t sensitive â€” is incredibly powerful, especially in bulk, and can easily be used by governments to identify and suppress protesters attempting to exercise their right to free expression,” says Kevin Bankston, policy director for the New America Foundationâ€™s Open Technology Institute, as cited by the Washington Post.