Russians turn mobile phone security off

Moscow residents were denied GSM privacy this week by government order as the authorities seek to crack down on crime
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Russian security services disabled all mobile phone voice security for 24 hours in Moscow this week, according to a report in the Moscow Times. As a result, police and state authorities could monitor all calls -- as could anyone equipped with an appropriate receiver. Mobile phone users received a text alert telling them that their conversations could be intercepted, and some mobile phones also displayed an icon of an unlocked padlock.

"The action taken to shut down the encryption system was conducted in accordance to the existing law and in order to prevent crimes," mobile phone company Mobile TeleSystems said on Wednesday. The Russian Interior Ministry, said by the Russian news agency Intelfax to be the source of the order, refused to comment.

The decision to shut down encryption follows the double suicide bombings that killed 14 people at the Krylya rock festival on Saturday, says the Times. A mobile phone was found on one of the female suicide bombers, and the FSB is examining its SIM card for clues as to whether the bombers coordinated the attack with accomplices, according to local media reports.

This isn't the first time encryption has been disabled. It was switched off during the Dubroka theatre siege last October, which ended with 120 hostages dying due to the effects of gas used by the special forces, and was turned off in St Petersburg during the visit of world leaders last month to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the city.

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