Kazakhstan has ended a controversial internet surveillance system that was capable of intercepting all HTTPS internet traffic just three weeks after it was introduced.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced that the programme had initially been introduced for security reasons and that the test that had proved such measures “would not inconvenience Kazakh internet users.”
The system forced users in the capital, Nur-Sultan, to install a new, government-issued security certificate on every device and browser, allowing the government to intercept, decrypt and analyze supposedly secure web traffic.
When it was first introduced on July 17, users without the certificate trying to access the internet were automatically redirected to web pages that outlined how to install the government’s certificate.
The Kazakh Ministry of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace had said: “[The decision was] aimed at enhancing the protection of citizens, government bodies and private companies from hacker attacks, Internet fraudsters and other types of cyber threats.”
However, Censored Planet, a global censorship observatory, said the system went against “decades of progress by the computer security community towards ensuring that all websites are protected by strong, end-to-end encryption.”
This is the second time that the government has attempted to implement a system capable of intercepting and monitoring web traffic. In 2015, the government had ordered all Kazakh users to install a similar certificate by January 1 2016. However, the move failed after the local government in Nur-Sultan was sued by local ISPs, businesses and foreign governments.
Similarly, this time several lawyers said that they had sued the country’s mobile operators on the grounds that restricting internet access to those who didn’t install the certificate was illegal.
The government has a long history of human rights violations. On 9 June, for example, the government detained hundreds of peaceful protesters following a disputed election, which Amnesty International said “again demonstrated their disregard for human rights.”
In May, the government also temporarily blocked access to social media and news sites during Victory Day.
Although President Tokayev said that “there are no grounds for concern,” given the regime’s track record of digital rights abuses, this is unlikely to be the last time the government attempts to surveil its users online or restrict access to the internet.