Kazakhstan: Security Services Get Sweeping Communications Blocking Powers
Authorities in Kazakhstan are stepping up efforts to tighten control on information by granting the security services power to sever internet and phone connections without having to apply for a court order.
Independent newspaper Ak-Zhaiyk reported on January 20 that the authority to disconnect telecommunications has been granted to the National Security Committee, or KNB, at all levels, down to local branches.
The stated aim of the measure is to combat terrorism.
As lawyer Jokhar Utebekov has noted on his Facebook account, the fact that the KNB will be able to act directly in blocking websites, disconnecting mobile phone links, disabling messenger apps or suspending internet connections without having to go through service providers would appear to indicate that it already possesses the technical means to do so.
The KNB will be able to carry out any of those actions at the request of the police, the anti-corruption agency, the economic crimes service and several other security bodies, in effect giving it authority previously wielded only by the General Prosecutor’s Office.
The changes to the law that have brought about these changes are, incidentally, part of the same contentious legislative package that required citizens to register with local authorities in the event that they settle in a location for more than one month.
Be it as it may, the adjustment to the law will change little in reality and will only formalize an already existing pattern of censorship.
Offending websites and mobile connections are routinely blocked or disconnected only for the incident to later be attributed to unspecified technical failures. This invariably occurs at times of unrest bubbling over in reaction to unpopular official decisions or whenever activists plan rallies.
One notable example of that occurring was last spring, when crowds of people in various parts of the country went onto the streets in protest at a proposed land privatization scheme. At the time, access to social media sites and popular messaging software like WhatsApp was mysteriously affected.
More recently, when a journalist set up an online petition to oppose the widely criticized registration law, the website carrying the petition suddenly became inaccessible in Kazakhstan.