Hacktivists Turn Surveillance Against the State

Published · Sep 05, 2021

Hackers in Iran and Belarus began using the two states’ surveillance systems against themselves. They leaked official footage revealing crimes perpetrated by law enforcement and human rights abuses in a prison facility.

The speed at which surveillance technology is proliferating around the world, and its increasing sophistication, worry people for a number of reasons. Concerns range from corporations aggregating data for targeted advertising to a general loss of privacy. As a result, many have taken to using commercially available VPNs to cover their online footprint.

Corporations often use available databases to run background checks on prospective employees. And anyone can access publicly available people search sites for various reasons—benign or potentially malevolent.

When it comes to governments, concerns revolve around the potential for authoritarian abuse through ever-present invasive monitoring. The public is forming these fears in reference to ongoing developments around the globe. One need only look at how governments are ramping up surveillance and figuring out how to leverage technology in their favor.

Flipping the Script

In some instances, this mass rollout of surveillance is beginning to backfire. The surveillance system of the notorious Evin prison in Iran was hacked. The hackers leaked footage from the moment of the attack. Other video material showed the terrible conditions in the facility, as well as abuse at the hands of other prisoners and facility personnel.

Another group known as the Belarus Cyber Partisans has been regularly leaking data supposedly taken from government databases. The data shows crimes committed by police, including illegal orders to crackdown on peaceful protest. Plus evidence of the government hiding real Covid statistics.

The Belarus Cyber Partisans say they have much more to share. Moreover disgruntled government and law enforcement officials are reportedly assisting them.

Motivated actors can always be turn technology to new purposes—this is clear from examples like those above.

Activists are using systems designed to strengthen and streamline control to expose abuse. In turn, foreign opponents can leverage this to undermine an unfriendly government and prompt instability. On that note, the Belarusian government has implied the hacktivists are backed by “foreign actors.”

Whatever the case, the hackers’ actions represent a small victory by illustrating that technology can cut both ways—not just for oppression but to fight against it too.

Garan van Rensburg
Garan van Rensburg

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.