In Fast Company today, Neal Ungerleider writes about Twitter’s acquisition of a company called Whisper Systems. Know what Whisper Systems does? They make software to encrypt information you send over your phone, like Tweets! Know where this would be useful? If you said “countries where fascist regimes are censoring and detaining activists engaging in nonviolent free speech practices, like, say, Egypt,” you’re correct!
So: What happened to the encryption software?
For context, Underleider begins:
Whisper Systems, a small Android security outfit whose products played a major role in the Arab Spring, lets people send encrypted smartphone calls and text message calls to each other using its RedPhone and TextSecure software. The company rushed an international edition of the previously U.S.-only products to market specifically for Egyptian users in February this year. As a result, Whisper’s products played an important role in the most dangerous days of the Egyptian Revolution; users relied on the software to make encrypted mobile phone calls and to anonymously post SMS messages to Twitter.
So, on Monday, Twitter buys Whisper. Then, RedPhone disappears. On the day Egypt is holding their elections after a year of political turmoil and chaos, to put it lightly. So, Egypt has elections, and the country holds it together. See, not all so bad!
Two of the country’s best known Twitter users were detained this month. Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a prominent Egyptian Twitter personality with over 60,000 followers (pictured above), was charged with premeditated murder with the intention of committing an act of terrorism on November 28. The charges, filed by Egypt’s High State Security Prosecution, appear to be politically motivated. El-Fattah was one of the best known Twitter critics of Egypt’s ruling military junta, and his continued detention is turning him into an icon of the Egyptian left.
No evidence has been given to substantiate Egyptian State Security’s charges.
So! Next time you arbitrarily buy a random encryption software company, learn from Twitter, and make sure you’re not doing it around election time or making the service unavailable to people who are really, really going to need it, or give them advance notice, or just know that you’re going to incite some serious conspiracy paranoia by doing anything other than the aforementioned options.
Which, for the record, are not good looks.
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