Let’s Talk SMS, Facebook Passwords, Freedom, Security and Lebanese Twitter Political Play

Back in April of 2012, the ISF requested some data from the ministry of telecommunication. Their request was refused. People freaked out. Bloggers blogged. Tweeps tweeted. The following day, all was well.

Flash forward a few months and it’s early December 2012. The ISF requested the same data from the ministry of telecommunication. The request was refused. People freaked out. Bloggers blogged – and I took part this time. Tweeps tweeted. The following day, all was well.

The Lebanese fight for “privacy” is seemingly a one-day affair that needs to be instigated by some politician on twitter with obvious aspirations. Rally the masses. Get them to be afraid. And you’ve hit the jackpot. So when the big prize ends up being cashed, the fueling stops and people relax because things turn out all well as if nothing happened. I’ve made my stance from this whole debaccle clear. I refuse to be carried away by political rhetoric and I refuse to be bullied into believing that this matter is a notion of freedom versus security. It’s not. Your freedom and security do not negate each other. Criminals are not free to have an umbrella of safety over their heads just because of some person’s melodramatic understanding of freedom. So as some theatrical Lebanese threaten to leave the country to better ones such as the US, the land of the free and the brave, they forget about such things such as the Patriot Act and the mere fact that many of them will be wire-tapped and monitored just because they’re Lebanese. But ignorance is bliss. So let’s for a moment pretend as if our data is actually private and examine what this data is all about.

Facebook and Twitter passwords:

Our Twitter and Facebook passwords were supposedly not part of this “data request” as the minister said. But them being part of the request is besides the main point. The main question here is does the ministry of telecommunication have our passwords and log-in data? Do they have our emails and log-in information? And if so, how did they get them? I’m pretty sure Twitter and Facebook, both companies being above governments, won’t crack down and hand them over. I’m also sure that gmail and hotmail and yahoo or whichever mail client you use employs the highest standard of encrypting. Cracking https connections is not impossible but it’s also a very tedious operation, from what I gathered. I am not an expert but apparently the government getting the passwords of all Lebanese citizens to all their different accounts is a very difficult operation. So which is it? Is the Lebanese ministry of telecommunication using illegal equipment to crack our data, the likes of which were used transiently last year by the Iranian government, which was eventually forced to stop when its actions were uncovered? And if the ministry has these devices, shouldn’t we panic about them tapping into our privacy first before we panic about them handing it over? In other words, shouldn’t #ProtectPrivacy be more like #StopSpyingOnUs?

SMS, BBM, iMessage, etc…:

SMS is trackable and getting access to them should be, as I’ve said, only based upon judicial subpoenas. Those who believe their SMS messages are off-limits regardless of circumstance are delusional and simply ignorant. Moreover, last time I checked, BBM and iMessage were very well-encrypted. I also highly doubt that companies like Apple (which can basically buy Lebanon at this point) and RIM need to schmooze up to the Lebanese government by giving them access to your iMessages or BBM messages. Should you worry about outsiders reading the content of your text messages? You have every right to. But you also need to know that even if the ISF got their hands on your data, they won’t have neither the manpower nor the time to go through all your gossiping because, at the end of the day, we as the mass collective of the Lebanese population are irrelevant. However, in case you still believe that this request with its tentative obvious breach of privacy is very Lebanese-like and doesn’t happen in more developed countries, which some of you cannot but wait to go to, this article (link) is for your reading pleasure. And that’s the land of the freeeee and the home of the brave. I guess enticing rhetoric about freedom and security is only appealing until a certain point where you realize that other “better” countries have these types of requests as well. The only difference is their requests don’t get milked politically as is the case here, which brings me to point #3.

Twitter Political Play:

The mess on Twitter yesterday was nothing more than a pure political game by a politician who played you like pawns. He made you all believe that the ISF wanted unlimited access to your data when in fact they were only requesting access to data for the two months leading up to Wissam Al Hassan’s assassination. Forgive my French but politicians wouldn’t give a shit about your privacy if it meant it could help them reach political gains. If your “protected privacy” was of benefit to the politician who’s supposedly protecting it, rest assured he would have been the first one demanding it be released. There are no principles here. There are just interests. And people were gullible enough to actually believe a Lebanese politician – no matter who he is – would actually stand up for their privacy. Politicians wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about your privacy if blocking it meant they can get their peace of mind by not allowing others access to something they already have. You’re worried about your private information falling into the hands of the ISF? Well, I’ve got news for you. Your information is already in the hands of people who are worse than the ISF. I guess you’re smart enough to know who. So now said politician can flaunt around what took place on Twitter yesterday for some political gains in a game of chess that’s only leading to elections next year where this politician hopes to get a parliamentary seat. And if that’s not clear enough, perhaps the leaking of “top secret” information from within the government – the first time this happens in recent memory – pertaining to the ISF request is proof enough.

It’s sad when we, as Lebanese, can’t trust our security forces to protect us. They can’t even protect themselves and somehow we hold that against them. The situation in the country is akin to a blind man driving a wretched car on a slippery road in a snowstorm and we’re sitting around freaking out about our “privacy” which is already being accessed hourly by people who should never have access to it. But ignorance is bliss. Keep believing that some politician has kept your privacy intact. Keep believing that you have privacy. And you worry about it for one day because that’s definitely more than enough.

#ProtectPrivacy – The Lebanese ISF Should Get Controlled Access To Your Information

The ISF have issued a request for minister of telecommunication Nicolas Sehnaoui to hand out the much coveted and talked about data that has been sought for months and months now. He has refused their request.

The data in question contains the text messages you’ve sent, some of your email correspondences as well as BBM chats (didn’t know that was accessible) and social media information that’s available to them. As a result, the entire Twitter community is in an uproar over this as they tweet against ISF measures using the hashtag #ProtectPrivacy, after a request from minister Sehnaoui.

I don’t know how the ministry of telecommunication actually has my Facebook or Twitter passwords. I don’t know how they have access to my emails or how they can actually read my iMessages. Last time I checked, those happened over an encrypted connection that makes access to them very difficult. But I digress.

When it comes to all of this, my stance is that of the devil’s advocate. Why not let them have access?

Of course this access has to be controlled. I’m against open access for them to everything because that’s just absurd. If I’m not a person of interest, then my data should be off limit until a time when I become a person of interest and that’s proven via evidence that shows my possible connection with a crime. For the record, I am innocent! (Although that’s what a criminal would also say). But to say that data should be off limit in absolute terms and for everyone doesn’t really make me feel safe in a country where safety has become a fleeting sentiment that you get occasionally… when someone’s not getting blown up on a busy intersection at rush hour.

My privacy is important to me and I surely wouldn’t want everything I do be broadcast in some dark room somewhere in Lebanon’s Intelligence HQ. However, that’s the same thing criminals who are assassinating politicians and blowing up people would also say and are absolutely loving at the moment.

Eventually, the ISF doesn’t really care who you slept with or if you sexted someone other than your girlfriend/boyfriend. They don’t care where you went out for dinner yesterday or who you’re meeting up for lunch tomorrow. What they should care about is catching criminals and contributing to the safety of citizens in this country. An ulterior motive may exist. Perhaps all those Turkish soap operas are not enough. So that’s why we should have functioning courts that determine whether an ISF request for a person’s private data information is valid or not.

As a Lebanese citizen, I don’t care about someone getting controlled access to my privacy if it meant I don’t have to die for finishing work at 3 p.m on a Friday. #ProtectPrivacy? Honestly, I’d rather #ProtectSafety first and foremost.

Unlimited Night Internet Now Available in Lebanon

I just received a text from IDM notifying me that my DSL will become unlimited from 11 pm to 7 am every day. The decree, which minister Nicolas Sehnaoui announced was in works more than a month ago, was published in the Official Gazette last Thursday.

Ogero customers were immediately able to benefit from the service. Some said the website still showed that they were charged for the quota they used at that time. Minister Sehnaoui subsequently replied to some users on Twitter that they won’t be charged and that the website will be updated soon.

I asked minister Sehnaoui when other ISPs would offer this service and this was his reply to me.

It seems Private ISPs got their bandwidth quite fast. I’m not sure about other ISPs but I think they most probably have it as well. Here’s the text I got from IDM.

Instead of my account info showing me the typical: Your line didn’t pass the feasibility test for unlimited nights, I currently get the following:

I really hope the speed doesn’t become unusable at 11 pm. But yes, this was much needed. I can finally get those 80 app updates waiting for me out of the way. Infinity Blade 2 is just such a nuisance, don’t you think?

3G in Lebanon: Prices, Launch Date and Testing Experience

For those who don’t know, minister of telecommunications Nicolas Sahnaoui unveiled the 3G packages we’ve all been waiting for today.

The main package will be 500MB for a $19 monthly fee.

A smaller 100 MB package for $10 exists as well for those who don’t need extensive data.

Nothing has been mentioned about more data extensive package or if there will be a package suitable for those who need a laptop 3G connection via a dongle only.

Each extra MB of consumption will be charged at 4 cents/MB.

The service will launch on November 1st in Beirut and Mount Lebanon on both carriers Alfa and MTC and will be available for both prepaid and postpaid lines.

Sahnaoui also announced that 4G will be available in Lebanon starting Summer 2012, allowing speeds up to 100 Mb/s, after the initial phase of the fiber optics infrastructure upheaval ends.

What do I personally think of the proposed plans? The $10 one (if true) doesn’t make sense. I’d rather pay double to get five times the allowed quota. But is 500MB enough with 3G? I hardly think so. It’s very easy to burn through them without knowing due to the great speed the service provides. On the bright side, the cost of an extra MB isn’t that much so it might help a little.

However, does the claim that Lebanon’s 3G is the cheapest in the region hold up? Let’s look at 3G prices in KSA:

1GB for 50 Riyals (20,000L.L. or about $13.5), 5GB for1 100 Riyals (40,000L.L. or $36), Unlimited for 350 Riyals(140,000L.L. or $93)
So we definitely do not have the cheapest 3G in the region.

However how is 3G? I can answer that question.

After testing the service for four weeks, I can attest to its reliability – especially in Beirut – on alfa. I was getting speeds no less than 2 Mbps in Achrafieh and faced next to no data interruptions using my iPhone’s hotspot feature to connect to my laptop. I’ve gotten download speeds nearing 300 KB/s, which is more than what I got using 3G in Spain. For reference, a 350 MB episode of the Vampire Diaries took me about 20 minutes to download, which is almost unheard of in Lebanon.

Cynics have been saying that the 3G speeds the 4000 testers were getting are good just because you only have 4000 testers. However, after speaking to an alfa representative, he confirmed that they were not deploying the whole bandwidth they had for those 4000 testers so it could be that when 3G becomes available for the public, speed degradations will be rare.

3G coverage in Jbeil, however, has been very spotty. I didn’t manage to get 3G almost anywhere I went in the city and the moments I did get 3G, download speed was horrible, knowing that Jbeil was one of the covered cities during the testing period.

Tripoli, which wasn’t on the map my carrier alfa provided me with, had great 3G coverage, with speeds averaging 1.7 Mbps as well.

It is interesting to note, however, that I managed to get up to 5Mbps on 3G in Sodeco area in Achrafieh: