How Central Asian Governments Monitor Their Citizens

My latest with The Diplomat looks through a new report on Central Asian surveillance methods, and the Western companies helping in their efforts:

The 96-page “Private Interests: Monitoring Central Asia” is heavy on technical detail and schematics, including mapping of surveillance nodes and jargon-laced descriptions of the specific monitoring mechanisms. However, there are a few broad takeaways worth noting, both regionally and within specific nations. First, it appears that Central Asian governments – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, especially – have opted to tilt their surveillance methods toward the Russian example, utilizing a model known as System of Operative Investigative Measures (SORM), which gained much notoriety during the Sochi Olympics. “Modern electronic surveillance techniques in the Central Asian republics have been primarily influenced by those of Russia,” according to the report’s authors. SORM, as the report continues, “requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) … to keep a detailed record of their subscribers’ internet activity and, if necessary, to install the hardware necessary for doing so. Under SORM in Kazakhstan, for example, this information includes details regarding users’ identities, data regarding specific visits, and details concerning the traffic being transmitted.” One program within the SORM rubric can “store more than 10 terabytes of data, roughly equivalent to the US Library of Congress.”

Email, phone conversation, even Skype conversations – all have been tapped, stored, and utilized in intelligence agencies’ efforts to monitor and crush dissent, be it through human rights or media mechanisms. Even Uzbekistan’s first family doesn’t seem immune. As the report adds, “According to correspondence seen by Privacy International, [the Uzbek president’s daughter] Gulnara Karimova claims to have become a target for electronic surveillance.”