Matthew Rice is an Advocacy Officer at Privacy International working across the organisation engaging with international partners and strengthening their capacity on communications surveillance issues. He has previously worked at Privacy International as a consultant building the Surveillance Industry Index, the largest publicly available database on the private surveillance sector ever assembled. Matthew graduated from University of Aberdeen with an LLB (Hons.) and also has an MA in Human Rights from University College London.
Private surveillance companies selling some of the most intrusive surveillance systems available today are in the business of purchasing security vulnerabilities of widely-used software, and bundling it together with their own intrusion products to provide their customers unprecedented access to a target’s computer and phone.
Last week, we learned that the National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of mobile phones where ever they are in the world. The report from of the Washington Post, shows the extraordinary scale and reach of the NSA programs that attempt to know everything about us including our location, at any time.
Let's be clear: private surveillance companies are not just selling a product. Companies do not merely pack their product into a box and put it in the post. More often than not, surveillance firms sell a consultancy service, one that actively provides pre-sale consultancy, installation of the product, and training on how to operate the technology. When the product breaks, companies often provide ongoing technical support, with some companies sending over of consultants for up to 18 months to provide in-depth support to agencies.
When a product line becomes engulfed in controversy, the PR team's first move is to distance the corporation from the damage. The surveillance market is not immune to this approach, so when companies products are found to be in use by repressive regimes, the decision many boards make is simply to sell off that technology. This increasingly repetitive narrative is failing to solve any of the problems inherent with the sale of surveillance technology and in fact, is creating more.
The government of Pakistan has repeatedly shown it is relentless when it comes to deploying measures to censor and spy on its own citizens. Today, a report released by Citizen Lab reveals another repressive tool being used to control and prevent information being accessed on the internet -- this time with help from the Canadian web-filtering company, Netsweeper.