Protest leaders said the authorities seemed to be giving the more radical protesters free rein while going out of their way to frighten more moderate ones, particularly with the threatening text messages sent on Tuesday.
The phrasing of the message, about participating in a “mass disturbance,” echoed language in a new law making it a crime to participate in a protest deemed violent. The law took effect on Tuesday. And protesters were concerned that the government seemed to be using cutting-edge technology from the advertising industry to pinpoint people for political profiling.
Three cellphone companies in Ukraine — Kyivstar, MTS and Life — denied that they had provided the location data to the government or had sent the text messages, the newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda reported. Kyivstar suggested that it was instead the work of a “pirate” cellphone tower set up in the area.
The messages appeared to have little effect. Three hours after they were sent, riot police officers pushed past barricades of burned buses at that site and were met by a crowd of protesters in ski masks and bicycle helmets, carrying sticks and ready to fight.
Not the first time a government uses a “pirate” cell tower.
One case involved Julian Assange’s current home at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where visitors were surprised to receive welcome messages from a Ugandan telephone company. It turned out the messages were coming from a foreign base station device installed on the roof, masquerading as a cell tower for surveillance purposes. Appelbaum suspects the GCHQ simply forgot to reformat the device from an earlier Ugandan operation.