WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says that governments worldwide have been using electronic devices, such as smart-phones and computers, to monitor what people are saying, where they are going and what they are writing.
The controversial journalist spoke at a panel of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism held at the City University in London on Monday. The panel inaugurated WikiLeak’s new project: the Spyfiles. They provide details on the deals private surveillance companies made with various governments all over the globe to design monitoring software integrated into electronic devices, which could be used to monitor the activities of whoever these governments want to keep track of.
“Who here has a BlackBerry? Who here uses Gmail? Well you are all screwed!” Assange exclaimed. “The reality is intelligence contractors are selling right to countries around the world mass surveillance systems for all of those products.”
The WikiLeaks founder went on to say that these international surveillance companies, based mostly in “more technologically sophisticated countries,” often sold their technology to less advanced countries: states that have often been despised by the West for their allegedly authoritarian political regimes.
These include the Gaddafi regime in Libya, to which French company Amesys sold equipment designed to keep track of the then opposition members living abroad. Some of these dissidents are now part of the current ruling elite, but what raises eyebrows is that Gaddafi’s intelligence was able to pry on his opponents in the US, the UK and Finland.
“Today we release over 287 files documenting the reality of the international mass surveillance industry – an industry which now sells equipment to dictators and democracies alike in order to intercept entire populations” Assange told reporters.
But software users in the West are not safe either. Assange and other members of the panel told reporters how Western intelligence services used electronic devices to monitor the activities of its citizens. In Britain MI5 apparently used specialized voice recognition software implanted into cell phones that could make out who was speaking to whom. Other intelligence agencies had the ability to figure out where exactly the user was located, what they were typing and what they looked like. One of the programs allowed agencies to take photos of unsuspecting victims by using cameras implanted into their phones.
“The user’s physical location can be tracked if they are carrying a mobile phone, even if it is on standby” Assange said.
WikiLeaks recently celebrated the first anniversary of the controversial publication of US diplomatic cable leaks – a publication that made Julian Assange a household name.
Assange is currently under house arrest in London, where he is planning to launch an appeal against the recent ruling of a British court, which decided to extradite the journalist to Sweden, where he is accused of sexually harassing two women. Assange fears that his extradition to Sweden may eventually end up being one to the United States and will be appealing the ruling once again next Monday.