Special Report
“Qazaqstan Shutdown 2022”
Business, Internet, and Human Rights
Business, Internet, and Human Rights
Article author
Арсен Аубакиров,
ОФ «Human Rights Consulting Group»
Speaking of the legal standpoint, decisions, by which mobile operators, being business entities, introduced internet restrictions, blocked web resources, and later shut down the internet completely, are substantiated by the imposition of the state of emergency – at first, in certain regions, and then throughout the entire country, by the announcement of the conduction of anti-terroristic operations, and also by the provisions of the Law “On Communications”. In such a way, in light of the country-wide digitization, the sphere of telecommunications technologies suffered along with many other sectors of economy and end consumers of goods and services. Currently, it is nearly impossible to estimate the size of losses, for example, according to the insider information of Forbes, the losses incurred by Kcell are about KZT 1 billion. Based on the methodology used by NetBlocks, the total damage can achieve up to USD 500 million.
groups were using communications means for planning and coordinating their actions”. It is noteworthy that mobile operators neither notified their users, nor made any official statements on the reasons of blocking web resources and cutting down the internet.
Mobile operators and other businesses engaged in the provision of online services focused on the implementation of respective directives and demonstrated a broad-scale cooperation with governmental authorities. In doing so, users of their services did not receive any adequate information and learnt official news on the steps taken, mostly, from President Tokayev and MDDIAI in the person of Minister Musin.
On January 8, 2022, the Minister announced a row of measures aimed at making the life of common citizens easier in the absence of internet connection.
● They worked out a mechanism to maintain an access to certain resource 24 hours a day, despite the total internet shutdown. They also considered ‘the matter of providing an access to other vitally important services’.
● Pursuant to the President’s task, mobile operators promised to a free package of 200 text messages and 300 minutes of calls to all users.
● ‘Thanks to a close cooperation with the mobile operators’, citizens started receiving notifications and news from the State, namely from Akorda (Presidential Administration), and also from the mobile operators, through text messages.
As to the collection of data from outdoor surveillance cameras (i.e., from private systems), it can be suggested that the national video monitoring system of the National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan does not operate to the full extent yet, and the reasons can be both technical and organizational. For example, connection private video surveillance systems, as set forth by the Rules adopted in 2020, is being implemented behind time.
At the same time, Telegram was used to spread hundreds of proxy-servers for the users from Kazakhstan (an example can be found here). It should be mentioned that, in parallel with adequate solutions, this may pose a threat to the privacy of personal correspondence of users as such unsourced distribution can be used to spread out doubtful proxy-servers intended to collect personal data.
Private companies started to develop, specifically for Kazakhstan, ways for bypassing blocking mechanisms, both of general application and particularly for Telegram. For instance, free private browser TOR allocated special channels for Kazakhstan.
According to Technodom representative Yermek Zhakipzhanov, soon the country will be availed to a new service of verifying the legitimacy of home appliances, which are now offered in large numbers for sale at such marketplaces as olx.kz. This information is important for the population, because when buying stuff online, people can get involved in acquiring goods stolen during January events, which, in turn, can lead to certain legal consequences. The said solution should be expanded to cover network access devices, since such type of goods turned out to be first for stealing and are in high demand. This, above all, can prove to be quite effective in relation to mobile devices with the internet access as their blocking is implemented by their IMEI numbers.
At the same time, businesses that operate outside the country turned out to be more socially oriented, mobile, and rapidly adapting as they offered their own solutions to common users, both through international NGOs and directly, in particular for the preservation of access to information (bypassing of blockages), and for the protection of privacy (technical restrictions of tracking devices). Still, a question of the safety of data, which went through unverified channels for bypassing blocking mechanisms, remains open, along with the corresponding possibility of new large-scale data leakages in future.
In light of January events, local businesses acted in compliance with the national laws and fully performed all directives of the governmental authorities. As an independent body of ensuring human rights in the digital environment, business sector did not show transparency in its cooperation with the State and also demonstrated no initiative of its own, except for some technical solutions based on the outcomes of non-public communications with the MDDIAI of the RK as well as compensations to the users of their services.
Besides, several banks informed that they would not accrue overdue payment penalties for credits and other loans for the period from January 5 to January 19, 2022.
On January 13th, MDDIAI of the RK, together with the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Kazakhstan, announced the launch of the website to collect digital materials (photo-, audio-, and video materials) from the scenes of events in Almaty and other cities, taken by smartphones, automobile dash cams, and outdoor surveillance cameras.
The Minister of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry (MDDIAI), represented by Bagdat Musin, provided explanations on the internet shutdown, saying that “restrictions of internet access were related to the fact that terroristic
Behavior of Businesses and Cooperation with the State
Conclusion
On January 10th, Bagdat Musin announced other proposed measures to be implemented in conjunction with the mobile operators and banks to support the population under the state of emergency as follows:
● Kazakhtelecom JSC cancelled accruing penalties for overdue payments for telecommunications services rendered to natural persons in January 2022, and also ‘provided 1000 minutes of calls from landline phones to mobile phones with no additional charges”;
● All users of the fixed internet by Kazakhtelecom JSC and Beeline received a free access to TV and entertainment options;
● Mobile applications of Beeline, Kaspi, Halyk, and Homebank introduced the Governmental News section, where messages on the state of emergency, overnight curfew, and other official announcements were published, which actually turned those businesses into mass media sources.
Recommendations
● The State, represented by the President’s Office, General Prosecutor’s Office, National Security Committee, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, should provide a publicly available conclusion on the effectiveness of the use of internet blocking mechanisms and communications shutdown through the prism of the events of January 2022.
● The State, represented by the MDDIAI, National Security Committee, and mobile operators, should define and specify communications procedures, and also make official publications of all documented liaison (letters, inquires, notifications, and meeting minutes) between themselves that took place on the background of the events from early January 2022.
● Leave behind those provisions of the national legislation that envisage restrictions of access to the internet and practice of blocking web-resources and cutting down the internet. In case the user has no traffic or in case of technical failures, the State, represented by the MDDIAI of the RK and mobile operators, should define the list of the socially significant resources and services, whether governmental, private, and public, which should be available even in the absence of internet so to ensure the entire spectrum of the rights and interests of its population.
● Mobile operators should strengthen their transparency and improve the mechanism of informing their subscribers on any possible and actual blockages and disconnections, accompanied by the most detailed clarifications and justifications, through their own communications channels (push notification services, news, short messages), placement of announcements at the official pages in social networks – preferably in the form of publications, and not as comments/quickly disappearing stories or other less vivid methods – and also through mass media sources.
● All stakeholders should expand information coverage campaigns on the protection of the right to access to the internet, and also on the implementation of the right to privacy in light of possible leakages of personal data, correspondence and other private information from the devices, when trusting unverified technical solutions in the form of widely spread programs and applications with various spheres of their intended usage.
● Telegram users are recommended to clean up the list of proxy-servers and keep only mostly trustworthy and recommended by cyber security specialists and relevant organizations.