Friday, October 28, 2011

They Spy on Us, and With Their Own Tools, We Spy on Them

Yoani Sanchez - Award-Winning Cuban Blogger

They Spy on Us, and With Their Own Tools, We Spy on Them
Posted: 10/27/11 05:13 PM ET

How many telephones do you think are listened into by the political
police? I asked a man who once worked for state intelligence and who now
is just one more private citizen. I ventured a three-digit number, a
modest count that provoked gales of laughter across his wrinkled face.
"Up to the mid-90s about 21,000 lines were tapped, and now it must be
double that with the addition of cellphones." Another gentleman
confirmed the number; his work had once been nosing around in other
people's conversations and installing microphones in the homes of
dissidents, state officials and even inconvenient artists. I spent the
day I heard such a bloated number feeling Big Brother's eye on every
tree, in every corner of my house, thinking about the indiscreet ear
stationed in that little gadget with a screen and a keyboard that I
carry in my pocket.

ETECSA, the only phone company in the country, uses its status as a
state monopoly over communications to provide listening services to the
Ministry of the Interior. This is not a delusion of my fevered brain. I
have tried taking apart my phone, even removing the battery and leaving
town; the nervousness of the "shadows" who guard my house is immediately
evident. Sometimes, just to amuse myself -- I freely admit it -- I use
my cellphone to invite several friends to participate in some
presentation of an official book or an event organized by a state
institution. The resulting operation would seem almost comical, if it
weren't for the evidence of the excessive resources -- which should be
contributing to the well-being of the people -- that the government
devotes to such things.

The watchers, however, can also become the watched. ETECSA employees
leaked a data base through the alternative networks with many details
about the country's telephone numbers. Without a doubt a violation of
the discretion any company should exercise over its information about
its clients. But this has served to unmask the phone numbers of those
who watch and denigrate us. From journalists working for the newspaper
Granma, to members of the Central Committee, to senior police officials,
their data appeared with their identity card numbers and even their home
addresses. Brief acronyms show which phones are paid for by government
agencies and which are private. This exposes the official links of many
who call themselves independent. For once, the detailed inventory
they've made on every citizen has served for us to know about "them," to
know that those who are listening on the other end of the line have
names, not just pseudonyms. Now, anyone can call them, send them a
message, something as short and direct as a text saying "Enough already!"

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