September 17, 2012

Police and security forces around the world — and that includes in the West — hate being recorded when they’re overstepping the mark in the execution of their duties, since it allows the public to challenge official accounts, and even to use videos to seek redress. But there’s one thing worse than being recorded, and that’s being livestreamed: even the most nimble authorities can’t confiscate the recording from its creator, since it’s already been uploaded for the world to see.

No wonder, then, that the livestreaming app Bambuser has become one of the most popular — and potent — weapons for activists to deploy against heavy-handed policing, allowing them to fight back in a non-violent way against institutional brutality around the world. But the inevitable corollary is that powerful as it is, Bambuser is now seen as a threat in itself. Last year, the Egyptian government blocked Bambuser, and this worrying tweet from the official Bambuser account, suggests that the Syrian authorities are going even further in their crackdown on the service:

We just got this: “secret police arrested a person because he had bambuser application on his mobile” Disgusting to hear! #Assad

No more is known about the fate of that activist, but it’s a disturbing turn of events when just the presence of a piece of general software on your phone is grounds for arrest. Of course, it would be relatively easy to disguise that app with a fake name and icon, but it won’t take police long to move on to the next stage and try opening up apps to see what they do. And in any case, anyone actually using Bambuser or similar streaming tools to record police and security force actions now knows that they are in danger.

This shows that the theory that turning everyone into citizen journalists to broadcast what’s happening, as it’s happening, will give activists new tools to fight against oppressive regimes is fine — until the mere possession of those tools is enough to get you arrested.

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