On January 1st, American citizens will celebrate the New Year in style, with dancing, parties, concerts, and the rest of American celebratory life. Americans will also celebrate another year of freedom and democracy in a country that, for many, has been, since its inception, a social and political experiment. As the first US President George Washington said at the time of his inauguration, “the eyes of the world are upon us, watching and waiting to see the outcome of liberty.” Unfortunately, those in Kazakhstan will undergo a different experiment – for January 1, 2016 will mark a new chapter in the political life of the country due to the declaration that all Kazakstan citizens will be required to download a “national security certificate” onto their mobile devices (PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.).
The Kazakhstan telecommunications group Kazakhtelecom JSC published its statement a little over a week ago now (11.30.2015), telling citizens to prepare themselves and giving a short explanation as to why the national security certificate will benefit them: “The national security certificate will secure protection of Kazakhstan users when using coded access protocols to foreign internet resources.” The statement has since been taken down, but thanks to the magic of the internet, here is the archived page. The group claims that its goal is to protect Kazahkstan citizens, but in the same path, the national security certificate will also provide a way for the Kazakhstan government to spy on its citizens and see just what they’re up to.
Again, this presents advantages and disadvantages. If Kazakhstan intends to stop terrorists and combat military tragedies and innocent deaths in its country, then its actions are to be applauded. At the same time, however, there’s no telling just how far the Kazakhstan’s “snooping” activities will go with a national security certificate. After all, in the same announcement, Kazakhtelecom JSC says that “Kazakhtelecom JSC pays special attention that installation of security certificate can be performed from each device of a subscriber, from which Internet access will be performed (mobile telephones and tabs on base of iOS/Android, PC and notebooks on base of Windows/MacOS).”
The fact that the national security certificate must be installed on every device with an internet connection is interesting indeed. It shows that, even with something such as anti-spy software in place, the Kazakhstan government will still have a backdoor by which to access everything from your web browsing history to webpages, images, emails, text messages, and even your Facebook, Apple, and Google websites (perhaps access to Google’s Cloud Drive storage, even).
Even in the US, for example, it’s no secret that carriers and the government work hand in hand. Top US carrier Verizon Wireless, for example, has been, along with AT&T, guilty of being paid by the government to hand over your phone calls, texts, and other telecommunications data. As of February 2016, the NSA will have to go through proper channels to access your data (thanks to Edward Snowden’s revelations as a former NSA contractor), but there are still loopholes and backdoors in mobile devices. In fact, Apple’s decision (and later Google’s for Android) to encrypt its iOS devices has so offended the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) that it claims Apple’s decision is obstructing justice and continuing the drive in the war on terrorism rather than bringing it to an end. If you don’t see how easy it would be for US carriers to institute a national security certificate of some kind, take a look at the “government taxes and fees” on your phone bill each month. Anything telecommunications-related in any country around the world is, ultimately, government property.
So, it wouldn’t be hard for the US to institute the same national security certificate as Kazakhstan, but the US hasn’t done that so far. At any rate, we’re not sure this helps Kazakhstan citizens look forward to 2016 at all.