Below are some security tips that may help in avoiding arrest and minimizing incrimination following arrest. There is no set manual and I don’t claim to be an expert so may be wrong, over the top or not cautious enough on some or all of the points. I myself don’t follow all of my own advice but the important thing is to be cautious, remain vigilant and exercise good judgment at all times. You are no use to #SudanRevolts locked up. This is a working document so please do send in your suggestions regarding points I’ve missed, tips based on your personal experiences or if you disagree with any of what’s written. Be sure to disseminate as widely as possible within #SudanRevolts if you feel the tips are of benefit.
- This is the most obvious tip of all but many don’t adhere to it anyway – don’t discuss sensitive information over the phone. Even if you are 100% sure you are not being tapped you can’t be sure the person on the other end isn’t.
- Try to avoid disclosing your exact location over the phone, especially if you are up to something.
- Points 1 and 2 also apply to texting.
- Whatsapp is generally considered safe but try to limit sensitive conversations to face to face interactions. It’s also good to get in the habit of clearing your Whatsapp conversations.
- Skype is generally safe but limit its use to laptops, computers and IPADs i.e. avoid using it on your phone (see point 6).
- Mobile phone devices can act as radio transmitters picking up conversations in the vicinity of the device even when switched off. Remove the phone’s battery or raise the TV/car stereo volume when engaged in sensitive conversations. Moving devices far away is best practice (sit on it if you have to).
- If your phone is tapped this means both your sim card and device are compromised. If you insert the sim card into another device then that device and future sim cards inserted into it become compromised as well. Same applies vice versa i.e. inserting different sim cards into your compromised device and so on.
- If you have to carry out sensitive conversations over the phone (not advisable) make sure both you and the other party have a fresh device and sim to use. Pre-paid unregistered sims (easily found in black market) and basic devices are best. Don’t broadcast your secret number and restrict its use to sensitive calls i.e. keep using your main number for regular calls. This avoids suspicion if your main number is tapped.
- NISS will go through your phone so get in the habit of regularly clearing your data (call logs, texts, footage, emails etc.). Try to use aliases you can remember when saving sensitive contacts. Generally, you don’t need sensitive emails once you’ve attended to them or footage once you’ve uploaded it so dump this data on a well hidden external drive or get rid of it altogether. If you must keep sensitive footage on your phone then store it in a password protected photo app if you have a smart phone and stow this app in a remote folder on your phone. Try not to keep social media and email applications signed on from your phone (restrict to times of use) – you can’t predict the timing of an arrest but can at least be well prepared for it.
- Be smart about your use of Facebook. It’s infiltrated by NISS, especially the open groups; some are even run by NISS. Increase your privacy settings and don’t add/accept users you don’t know.
- Twitter is relatively new to NISS but they are quickly catching on. Avoid disclosing sensitive names and future plans such as planned protests or meetings unless publically announced e.g. UMMA Party publically announced the “Elbow Licking Friday” protest at Wad Nubawi mosque. Use DMs if necessary and confine tweets to publically available and secondary information, discussions and retweets etc. It’s a difficult balancing act with the need for media coverage and updates but try to apply good judgment.
- People are encouraging activation of location settings on smart phones to both check that others are safe and to track protest locations. If you do this, bear in mind that it would also help NISS track you and any secret mobilizations you may or may not be involved in. I would generally advise disabling location settings.
- Change passwords regularly. Numbers, characters and case sensitivity throw off hacking software. Use a different password for each application (hack one and they have access to all).
- Some people say you should give your passwords to a person/s you trust and have them change them or deactivate your accounts in the event of your arrest. I personally don’t think this is a good idea (see arrest section), even from the point of view of general internet security. If you must, then pass the passwords on face to face (have the person memorize them) and never exchange them over the phone, texts etc.
- Try to travel in groups, especially if you are going to a protest. If the protest hasn’t started then don’t hang around looking suspicious, you need to fit in. If it doesn’t materialize then move out. If you know about the protest then NISS likely will too. Keep protest gear hidden when travelling to/from protests. Make sure at least one other person knows where you are at all times (through safe means of communication).
- If you’re in hiding or using a different car, don’t announce it. It defeats the purpose and courts suspicion.
- I personally wouldn’t go into hiding following an arrest. You would likely be under surveillance for a short while after and hiding would draw suspicion. It’s best to stay low key for a while after an arrest. There are many ways to stay effective while keeping a low profile (media work, blogging etc.).
- You will know if you are under surveillance in which case you should temporarily lay low in terms of direct activism while maintaining your everyday routine. This might sound obvious (and you should for road safety anyway) but always look in your rear-view mirrors while driving.
Talking in Public
- We do it, it’s in our DNA so let’s not deny it but at least be careful about it because NISS and their informants are everywhere. General guidelines are to:
- Scan the area – NISS are easy to spot from their vehicles, dress, unsubtle staring and eavesdropping etc. If you suspect someone is NISS or an informant then they most probably are so don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt. The key is not to get thrown off by their presence around you as it will attract their attention. Most likely they would not be there specifically for you i.e. off-duty (unless you’re under surveillance).
- Lower your voice.
- Avoid talking in front of people you don’t know – don’t be trusting.
- Avoid talking in public transport, taxis, rakshas, amjads etc.
- Avoid talking in shisha places – they are full of NISS (on and off duty).
- Media coverage is crucial so interviews are very important. They do pose a risk but rather than avoiding them altogether, do them anonymously (most media are fine with this even for TV interviews). This is strongly encouraged when interviewing for Arabic language and mainstream media outlets which are the ones we need to target most.
- You’ll be surprised how little NISS know. Most of the information they have is fabricated or incomplete; provided by informants under pressure to deliver their weekly quotas. A significant portion of their solid information however comes from interrogations and this is where we have to careful. Don’t give away any information you don’t have to and don’t assume they already know it (they don’t). It’s not about confrontation, the key is to be as smart as possible to ensure a quick release and avoid incriminating others. A few tips and suggestions on this:
- If you’ve been arrested at a protest and have no priors then you can probably get away with playing dumb. If you can’t get away with pretending you weren’t actually at the protest (passing by etc.) then take the ‘accidental’ line “I was just trying to see what was going on (shamar)” i.e. you’re not an activist. They will try to terrorize you and pretend to know all about you (they don’t) for a while but being calm and convincing will likely get you released rather quickly.
- They will accuse you of being a communist and nowadays GIRIFNA. Even if you are, these are blanket accusations so don’t admit to them if you’re not an outed member (don’t assume yourself to be ‘busted’).
- They will tell you that “so and so” outed or incriminated you as a GIRIFNA member, activist, organizer, mobilizer, President-Elect etc. Stay calm even if “so and so” is someone you do know, it’s just a tactic. Challenge them to facilitate a confrontation with this person – they will back down. Likewise don’t give anyone up, they get most of their information during interrogations by instilling fear, conning you into thinking they already know or that cooperation helps.
- They will throw random names at you. If you know or interact with any of them, don’t assume they know that. They will throw these names at everyone. If you feel that they definitely know you have some sort of relationship with a named activist (especially if they are on your call log etc.) then make sure you always bring it back to social ties – he/she’s a distant relative, friend, university classmate etc.
- If your last name is in itself incriminating, try to avoid revealing it. Your first three or even four names are likely to be generic. You could reveal those without reaching the incriminating last name. This doesn’t work if they know exactly who YOU are (your face etc.). Having said that, these people are closeted and know very little about people and society anyway.
- If they ask who your friends are then name every single NCP (or NCP-friendly) member’s son/daughter you know. I’m not kidding. We all know some. The point is you want to hasten your release by distancing yourself from being perceived as opposition. Don’t name another activist as a friend.
- They will quiz you obnoxiously about your personal life. They will ask who he/she is and what kind of relations you have with them – the names are usually taken off your phone, Facebook etc. (they really know nothing). These types of questions are designed to intimidate you – they want you to get scared, slip up and have something to hold against you ‘in exchange’ for intelligence you might have. Don’t take the bait.
- If you haven’t been directly arrested for internet activism (i.e. from a protest etc.) then you can probably get away with not giving up your passwords. If you are an activist and have been targeted for arrest then you could also get away with not giving up passwords because your internet activity isn’t the main cause for your arrest. Use your judgment but don’t make them feel like you’re hiding something. If you’ve been arrested for internet activism then you have little choice but having secondary less controversial social network/email accounts just in case (for this purpose) is always a good idea. Some have them anyway. Don’t give them the wrong passwords though, they will check, bring you back and station you in front of a laptop until they get the correct ones. The key is not to make them feel like you’re lying or hiding something.
- If you’re an activist and you’re arrest was targeted then you need to keep calm. It doesn’t mean they know everything about you. They have a little, want to con you into giving away more or simply want to scare you off activism. Don’t overestimate the interrogators, they are disappointingly poor. You are more intelligent than they are and if you are calm you can direct the interrogation as you see fit but do it subtly because making them feel stupid gets them angry. They talk an awful lot and give away a lot of information (mostly incorrect) themselves, so let them talk, find a way of letting them do most of it. When you get asked questions about public knowledge events or non-controversial issues which they seem to think are important (happens a lot), talk about these issues extensively – the key is to talk a lot without really saying anything. Time will pass and they will think that you have cooperated and that they have significant information. In reality you would have kept them away from sensitive issues and avoided any real incrimination.
- Beware of moles in the cells. They are either direct informants or detainees that have agreed to act as spies in exchange for early release (not everyone can withstand detention, torture etc.) –they might even ask to recruit you at some point. They will act like one of you and be treated (in front of you) like one of you but can easily be figured out. None of the other detainees is likely to previously know (or have heard of) the direct informant. Most students, youth, activists, politicians know their own groups so that’s the first give away. Both types of spy will ask you/everyone lots of questions and both will be frequently called up for ‘interrogation’ (reporting back).