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End to privacy? Western firms hawk mass surveillance technology to developing world

Published time: November 19, 2013 09:56
A Jewish boy lifts his hand to prevent a Palestinian from taking his picture near a police barrier cordoning off a building the day after Israeli police evicted Jewish settlers who occupied it in the West Bank city of Hebron April 5, 2012. Israeli police evicted Jewish settlers on Wednesday from the building they said they had bought from a Palestinian in the heart of Hebron, a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(Reuters / Ammar Awad)

A Jewish boy lifts his hand to prevent a Palestinian from taking his picture near a police barrier cordoning off a building the day after Israeli police evicted Jewish settlers who occupied it in the West Bank city of Hebron April 5, 2012. Israeli police evicted Jewish settlers on Wednesday from the building they said they had bought from a Palestinian in the heart of Hebron, a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.(Reuters / Ammar Awad)

Human rights groups are sounding alarms as Western firms sell mass surveillance technology in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, equipping governments and companies new capabilities to snoop on citizens.

Despite the public outcry over mass global surveillance being carried out by the NSA and the GCHQ, brought to light in May by US whistleblower Edward Snowden, the scandal has not prevented tech companies and countries from closing contracts on spy technology.

That was the conclusion by Privacy International, a surveillance technology watchdog that has spent four years studying over 1,000 brochures and seminars used at technology fairs in major cities around the world, including in Dubai, Prague, Brasilia, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and London, the Guardian reported.

Researchers listed themselves as potential buyers to gain access to the private conventions.

On the basis of its findings, the watchdog released the Surveillance Industry Index, which shows how tech firms from Germany, France, Israel, the UK and US offer governments a broad array of systems that allow them to secretly monitor email and phone communications.

The index provides details from 338 companies, including 77 from the UK, offering governments around the world a total of 97 different types of technology to choose from.

One firm proudly touts its "massive passive monitoring" equipment, which can "capture up to 1 billion intercepts a day," the report says. Others sell cameras that can be concealed in cola cans or children's car seats, while one firm offers to transform vehicles into surveillance control centers.

Since the companies promote the new technology as a means to help governments defeat terrorism and crime, there appears to be nothing illegal about the services.

Meanwhile, despite the international scorn heaped on the United States for collecting meta-data on millions of communications around the world, as well as monitoring the phone calls of world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this does not seem to have a cooling effect on sales.

Indeed, there is no lack of demand for this ‘off the shelf’ equipment that will give more governments the power to spy on emails, text messages and phone calls - capabilities that have become associated with government agencies such as GCHQ (General Communications Headquarters) and the NSA (National Security Agency).

One Dubai-based tech company provides DIY system similar to GCHQ's Tempora program, which hacks into fiber-optic cables to retrieve private data.

Privacy International says manufacturers of surveillance technology should be regulated just like arms manufacturers.

"There is a culture of impunity permeating across the private surveillance market, given that there are no strict export controls on the sale of this technology, as there are on the sale of conventional weapons," Matthew Rice, research consultant with Privacy International, told the British newspaper.

"This market profits off the suffering of people around the world, yet it lacks any sort of effective oversight or accountability.

"This lack of regulation has allowed companies to export surveillance technology to countries that use their newly acquired surveillance capability to spy on human rights activists, journalists and political movements,"
Rice concluded.

Privacy International hopes its research into firms that sell surveillance equipment to governments around the world will spark a debate on regulating these powers that present a grave threat to privacy everywhere.

Comments (9)

 

Israel Tykochinsky 20.11.2013 06:31

How this picture connected to following article?
It create some antisemitic underwater meaning...

 

SSD7 19.11.2013 23:59

How much more mistreatment can the people of the developing nations stand? They have been bombed and are still being bombed daily with drones. Now they are also being heavily spied upon. If they try to defend themselves, they are labled "terrorists.&qu ot; If they imigrate to a developed nation for their survival, they are not wanted or trusted. US President Lincoln once stated, "A house divided cannot stand." In the same way, "Our divided planet cannot stand." The developed nations bullying /killing the undeveloped nations, will eventually lead to the destruction of the whole human race.

 

Albert Scuttlebutt 19.11.2013 22:39

Without mass surveillance technology, how could anyone possibly hope to rule the world? Wake up everyone, the race is on!

View all comments (9)
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