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Kazakhstan pauses implementation of its internet surveillance system after criticism from lawyers

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The government described the initial rollout as merely a test, but the system has been defined as “illegal”. Customers of Kazakhstan’s mobile phone operators located in its capital, Nur-Sultan, were asked to install an encryption certificate on their devices or else lose their internet access.

According to official statements from the State’s security agencies, the goal was to protect Kazachs from “hacker attacks, online fraud and other kinds of cyber threat”.

The encryption certificate enabled the government to intercept users’ traffic, circumventing the protocols used by email and messaging apps. But lawyers argued that denying internet access to those who refused to install the certificate would be illegal and said they had, for this season, sued the country’s phone operators.

Late on Tuesday, Kazakhstan State Security Committee said in a statement that the move was a simple test that was now completed and that users could remove the certificate and use their apps as usual.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in a tweet that he ordered the test, which ultimately showed that the new measures would not “inconvenience Kazakh internet users”.

“There are no grounds for concerns,” he added.

The country has a history of restricting access to the internet, even before the introduction of the certificate. It commonly blocks access – even just for a few hours – to popular websites and applications including Facebook, Youtube, and the messaging services Whatsapp and Telegram.

The blocks are usually synchronized with important live broadcasts by government critics and protesters, as happened during and after the elections on June 9, which made Tokayev the full-time president of Kazakhstan.

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