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Friday, January 24, 2014

A Lesson From Ukraine On Cell Phone Metadata

Women hold placards calling police to stop blood-letting and join protesters as they stay in front of the police line in Kiev on January 24, 2014. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Women hold placards calling police to stop blood-letting and join protesters as they stay in front of the police line in Kiev on January 24, 2014. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Today, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych promised to reshuffle his government and release protesters from jail.

It’s a big step forward for protesters in Kiev who have filled the streets since November 21, when the president’s cabinet announced that it would abandon an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union, and instead seek closer cooperation with Moscow.

The protests have been mostly peaceful, but after violent clashes on Sunday that killed several protesters, something strange happened on Tuesday. A chilling text message showed up on cell phones in Ukraine earlier this week.

“Dear Subscriber,” it read, “you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” It was interpreted by those who received it as an Orwellian warning to protesters who’d clashed with riot police in Kiev.

Presumably, the recipients were identified because their cell phone data showed they’d been in the area of the protests. That same kind of data is routinely requested — and received — by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

An independent federal privacy watchdog group says the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records does little to prevent terrorism, is illegal, and should be shut down.

Sean Hollister, senior reporter for the technology and culture news site The Verge, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.

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