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[liberationtech] more on sat phone (in)security

Stefan Geens stefan.geens at gmail.com
Fri Feb 24 00:35:40 PST 2012


The Syrian govt forces will probably argue that targeting the command-and-control infrastructure of the rebels, including satellite phone communications, is legitimate, and that they cannot discern between opposition forces communicating and journalists communicating. They can thus claim plausible deniability, and that the journalists were collateral damage.

Purposely attacking civilian targets such as hospitals is a crime, which is why hospitals in a war zone will have a red cross or crescent painted on them. (GCIV, art. 18: "The Parties to the conflict shall, in so far as military considerations permit, take the necessary steps to make the distinctive emblems indicating civilian hospitals clearly visible to the enemy land, air and naval forces in order to obviate the possibility of any hostile action." http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebART/380-600022?OpenDocument)

So perhaps one (counterintuitive) place for legal innovation might be to make journalists' communications more visible and distinct, akin to hospitals. Uplink signals from journalist satphones could carry a specific signature that interceptors cannot fail to notice. Reports could be transmitted unencrypted -- so that they are verifiably civilian in nature. By transmitting GPS coordinates in the open, they would tell anyone who is listening where civilian journalists are at work, and where an attack would be illegitimate.

This would not work in Syria today, where it is reported that the government has vowed to kill all foreign journalists. But for any conflict in which combatants respect the Geneva Conventions enough to avoid attacking clearly marked hospitals, it might also be possible to convince them to differentiate between combatant communication and journalistic communication before deciding whether to target it. The technology would allow it. It would require an added protocol to the Geneva conventions to encode this process.

Stefan

--
stefan.geens at gmail.com
@stefangeens @ogleearth @dliberation
+46 73 504 5261
Skype: stefan.geens
--

On 24 Feb, at 02:34, Katherine Maher wrote:

> Brian,
> 
> What would your suggestions be for rethinking international law? I'm not a legal expert, but it appears journalists are covered under the Geneva Conventions as both civilians and soldiers, effectively covering the rights to protection as POWs as well as against civilian targeting. http://www.npr.org/2012/02/23/147290996/for-war-reporters-the-risks-of-going-solo?sc=tw&cc=share In most instances, the governments or non-state actors targeting journalists are not respecting international or domestic legal frameworks.
> 
> Is there an indication Colvin was using opposition uplinks, versus her own equipment? Using any untrusted equipment or network carries risk, but even those bringing in their own  equipment are subject to local network vulnerabilities. 
> 
> Genuinely curious, what are you proposing?
> 
> On Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 8:17 PM, Brian Conley <brianc at smallworldnews.tv> wrote:
> Unfortunately they are often the only option. I think there needs to be a radical rethinking of international law as well as efforts to provide journalists ict support without relying on opposition activists which is inherently dangerous.
> 
> On Feb 23, 2012 5:09 PM, "Katrin Verclas" <katrin at mobileactive.org> wrote:
> Yep, all true.  Extremely imperfect risk mitigation strategies. We should probably just leave it at - DON'T use them in insecure environments.
> 
> Looking forward to your piece.
> 
> 
> On Feb 23, 2012, at 8:05 PM, Brian Conley wrote:
> 
> > Thanks Katrin,
> >
> > I will be writing my own piece about this issue soon, I hope tomorrow!
> >
> > I would like to take issue with two comments from the safer mobile submission, based on my own experience with the technology in the field. I would add a comment but am on my phone so will try to remember to submit late today.
> >
> > Now the issues:
> >
> > Initial comments only, anonymous says you should "move" which is a nice idea, but without higher end equipment this is notreally an option, particularly on older model phones and certainly not for bgan terminals. Unless you are in a desert in north Africa sitting on the side of the car That faces south in a rural area, you at not getting a reliable connection.
> >
> > Anonymous also suggests using the phone in a built up area, which hours directly against previous comment, it is REALLY difficult to maintain a reliable connection in a city unless you are on a roof our a balcony facing the proper direction, or a harbor or other area with a large open space away from the buildings. Remember satellite phones are not inconspicuous.
> >
> > Just some things to consider.
> >
> > Brian
> >
> > On Feb 23, 2012 4:36 PM, "Katrin Verclas" <katrin at mobileactive.org> wrote:
> > There is some indication that the two journalists killed in Syria were located by their sat phones. While details are elusive and unknown, here are some posts on why and how it's easy to track a sat phone. As @ioerror has repeatedly stated, be afraid. Be very afraid of sat phones in insecure areas.
> >
> > This from EFF: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/02/satphones-syria-and-surveillance  - a good overview
> >
> > This from SaferMobile (disclosure: I run the site/edit content) by Anonymous, a contributor to the site who works in the telco industry:  https://safermobile.org/be-afraid-be-very-afraid-of-satellite-phones-in-insecure-locations/  - detail on how location tracking is possible, easy, and cheap
> >
> > This from David Burgess, fabulous guy and core developer on OpenBTS: http://openbts.blogspot.com/2012/02/some-comments-on-satellite-phones.html - more detail on the technical logistics, nicely complements SaferMobile's post.
> >
> > Katrin
> >
> >
> > Katrin Verclas
> > MobileActive.org
> > katrin at mobileactive.org
> >
> > skype/twitter: katrinskaya
> > (347) 281-7191
> >
> > Check out the new Mobile Media Toolkit at
> > http://mobilemediatoolkit.org. To "Making Media Mobile!"
> >
> > A global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
> > http://mobileactive.org
> >
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> 
> 
> Katrin Verclas
> MobileActive.org
> katrin at mobileactive.org
> 
> skype/twitter: katrinskaya
> (347) 281-7191
> 
> Check out the new Mobile Media Toolkit at
> http://mobilemediatoolkit.org. To "Making Media Mobile!"
> 
> A global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
> http://mobileactive.org
> 
> 
> _______________________________________________
> liberationtech mailing list
> liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu
> 
> Should you need to change your subscription options, please go to:
> 
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> 
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> 
> 
> -- 
> Katherine R. Maher
> 
> +1.203.858.7316
> katherine.maher at gmail.com
> @krmaher
> 
> 
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> 
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