Insight into Syria: Part 3/3: Internet Communication and Worldwide Protest Movement

After having seen a picture of the Syrian intelligence organization and methods as well as having tried to assess the probability of a civil war and what would be its consequences, this last part of the interview focuses on giving a few elements about how people tend to react to Internet censorship and monitoring in the country.

As a reminder, Telecomix recently released 54GB of log files produced by BlueCoat SG-9000 filtering proxies located in Syria and managed by the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment in Damascus. Those devices are devoted to filtering and monitoring nearly the whole country’s HTTP traffic, helping authorities to track opponents. Devices from the German company Fortinet are also used to perform protocol-based filtering, which is a technique that comes under Deep Packet Inspect methods and which is used within the Intrusion Prevention System. It allows to block many VPN protocols such as PPTP, L2TP and OpenVPN in Syria, making secure communications extremely difficult to achieve.

With the help of Internet communication, the events happening in Syria rely on comparable ideologies as the other Arab spring revolutions or even « the Outraged » movements that have led to popular protests such as the Wall Street occupation. The last questions of the interview thus try to place this Syrian revolution into the wider context of those various popular movements.

The regime still holds a firm grip on communication infrastructures, notably by wiretapping and censoring Internet and telephone. How does this affect the revolutionary movement and the population in general?

It makes life a bit harder.

Are the people in general conscious and/or afraid of this monitoring and censorship?

They are frightened!

Do people actively try to find ways to circumvents these blockages and surveillance?

Yes. Mainly using Ultrasurf and Tor.

Recently, many VPN protocols have been reported to be blocked, without concern of the TCP port being used. This shows a clear increase in both skills and equipments. Where does the regime find the technical skills and equipments to increase their censorship in such a way?

The regime, or more precisely the intelligence branches, use external expertise from private companies or private consultants. They configure the system to them and then they leave the operation for them, which is usually handled by un-skilled persons.

To what extent does the Syrian regime benefit from the Iranian knowledge in terms of Internet censorship and monitoring?

No idea.

Groups such as Telecomix and Anonymous have been acting to inform Syrian people about this censorship and its risks and have been trying to provide tips for circumventing. To what extent did this work reach people who do not have advanced computer knowledge?

Not very well, because they are very confused/afraid and they do not know what and who to trust.

Any clue on the next steps that should be taken to reach and secure more people?

United Nations peacekeeping ;)

Recent images from New York City and Paris seemed to show, in both cases, peaceful demonstrators being assaulted by police forces, as they were notably protesting for more freedom and equity in general. Besides that the level of violence is different, do you see any common point between these protests, the Syrian situation and the Arab spring in general?

This is very similar to the situation in Syria but on a much larger scale. It shows the thin line between protecting people and abusing people by the police. I saw how much it is dangerous for the society to have police service that does not protect the basic human rights. And how it is so easy for the police to abuse their authority.

Do you think those protests are all parts of a worldwide movement from peoples or that these actions are led by particular minorities here and there?

I think there is unrest worldwide, for different reasons: human, political, economic and social crisis. Human rights are no longer the priority. This is the logical outcome of the anti-terrorist policies and the market-led policies. Anti-terrorist policies gave police and whatever law-enforcement services excess powers, so we are very close to a system where you are considered guilty unless you prove the contrary. Market-led policies reduced the value of human being, we wonder today if any policy is made on ethical basis or there is financial gain behind! Policies should be revised to include the human factor into account.

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