The Bahrain Watch organization has revealed that the Manama regime uses fake Twitter accounts to track government critics online.
Bahraini protesters hold pictures of jailed human rights activists during an anti-regime demonstration south of Manama, June 27, 2013.
Since October 2012, the Bahraini regime has detained several citizens for posting anonymous tweets that refer to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
An eight-month investigation showed that the Bahraini regime identifies those anonymous online critics by sending them malicious IP (Internet Protocol) spy links from a network of Twitter and Facebook accounts impersonating well-known opposition figures or other seemingly friendly individuals.
When a person clicks on an IP spy link, the report said, the security forces reveal the IP address of the internet connection they clicked from.
The regime can then force the internet service provider of the IP address to disclose the real name and street address of that internet connection’s subscriber.
According to the report, an examination of court records for five related cases shows that the Public Prosecution’s case centers on linking the IP address of the defendant to the offending anonymous Twitter account.
The prosecution, however, declined to disclose how the IP addresses were acquired, citing information obtained through “private methods that cannot be disclosed.”
The Bahraini regime apparently uses these accounts in secret, and may target their followers, friends, or contacts through private messages.
The report also lists over 120 other accounts that were also targeted in Twitter with IP spy links traceable to the government over the past two years.
Bahrain Watch lead researcher Bill Marczak said, “It is outrageous enough that individuals have been arrested and jailed for mere tweets criticizing the government.”
“That these individuals are being tracked down and convicted based on such weak digital evidence only makes matters worse.”
Bahrain Watch has urged political and social activists in Bahrain, and around the world, to be vigilant about impersonation accounts and malicious links.
“Given the government’s track record, it comes as no surprise that it would resort to such measures to stifle free speech,” Marczak stated.
“However, our hope is that this report will spread awareness of the methods that governments around the world use to trap digital activists.”