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Tunisia Altered E-Mails With Big Brother Software

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Vernon Silver
December 13, 2011

In Tunisia, Big Brother goes by an alias: Ammar 404.

A play on the “Error 404” message for blocked websites, Tunisian bloggers dreamed him up as a fictional front man for the sprawling surveillance state of former ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Aided directly and indirectly by American and European suppliers, Ammar 404 took control of virtually all electronic communication in Tunisia and turned lives upside down — even changing the content of e-mails in transit. In this world, Tunisians of all stripes could never be sure if e-mails arrived as sent or at all, or who was reading them.

Asma Hedi Nairi, a former Amnesty International youth coordinator, says e-mails she and her friends exchanged were replaced by messages ranging from random symbols to ads for rental cars. Opponents of the regime toppled in January’s revolution received threatening messages such as “you can run but you can’t hide,” while people with no role in politics found their correspondence snagged if it inadvertently included words flagged as critical of the government. Ammar 404 even damaged reputations by inserting pornographic images in work e- mails and routing intimate photos onto Facebook, Nairi, 23, says.

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This article was posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 4:41 am

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