SMS protest language censored by phone companies in Uganda

Reuters reveals an interesting African development related to protests in the Middle East and mobile communication:

Uganda has ordered phone companies to intercept text messages with words or phrases including “Egypt”, “bullet,” and “people power” ahead of Friday’s elections that some fear may turn violent.

“Messages containing such words, when encountered by the network or facility owner or operator, should be scrutinised and, if deemed to be controversial or advanced to incite the public, should be stopped or blocked,” he said.

[…]

The other English words or phrases on the list are: “Tunisia”, “Mubarak”, “dictator”, “teargas”, “army”, “police”, “gun”, “Ben Ali” and “UPDF”.

Bad idea. It will not work, not least of all because the black-list can be leaked; I see an impossible goal of staying abreast of slang and permutations already typical of SMS.

Who would type dictator when they can say tator, or tater, or tot? Who uses police when they can put cops, 5-0 or bobs? Wikipedia provides a list of euphemisms for police that covers every letter in the alphabet. I would use gas, or mace, or lach (short for lachrymatory), or pep(per), or RCA (riot control agent) instead of teargas.

I mean the obvious and historic defense is encoded language: the words gas and pepper have many meanings, and thus are hard to ban. This is a form of substitution. The key to decipher their correct (intended) meaning using message context or metadata. That easily defeats word-list censorship. How cool is that? Or should I say how radical? I’ve mentioned this before in terms of songs and poems like Kumbaya.

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