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Big Brother Inc.

Exposing the global trade in surveillance technologies and holding it to account

The global surveillance industry is estimated at $5 billion a year. The capabilities of surveillance technology have grown hugely in the past decade – in the hands of a repressive regime, this equipment eradicates free speech, quashes dissent and places dissidents at the mercy of ruling powers as effectively as guns and bombs, if not more so. However, export control regulations have not kept pace with this development, nor have companies taken it upon themselves to vet the governments to whom they sell their technology. The situation has now reached a crisis point: countries must enact strict export controls now, or be guilty of a staggering and continued hypocrisy with regard to global human rights.

Today, surveillance technology ranges from malware which infects a target computer to record every keystroke, to systems for tapping undersea fibre-optic cables in order to monitor the communications of entire populations. In countries where detention without trial, torture and extra-judicial killings are commonplace, these technologies imperil the lives of every activist and dissident. 

In 1995, PI published a report on the international trade in surveillance technology, focusing on the sale of technologies by companies in Western countries to repressive regimes intent on using them as tools of political control. Since then, thanks to the enormous profits involved and the wholesale failure of governments and regulators to intervene, this unethical (and in some cases unlawful) practice has only escalated. We therefore began a second investigation in July 2011, and we are now using a blend of research and investigation, public campaigning, political engagement and strategic litigation to bring to light the abuses of the surveillance industry and ensure that it is properly regulated in future. 

Our objectives are:

  1. To raise worldwide awareness of the dangers of surveillance technologies and the ethical failures of the surveillance industry.
  2. To ensure that export controls are put in place in Europe and the US to restrict the sale of surveillance technologies to repressive regimes.
  3. To seek redress for those who have suffered harm as a result of Western-manufactured surveillance technologies.

There is growing international momentum towards stricter regulation of surveillance technology exports. In the past year, the EU Parliament passed a resolution calling for stricter oversight of surveillance technology exports, President Obama announced an executive order to prevent such exports to Syria and Iran, and the French Secretary of State for the Digital Economy signalled a sea change in France’s export policies. The west must lead from the front, taking decisive action now to change export regulations, bringing its foreign and export policies in line, ending a staggering and damaging hypocrisy.

Surveillance Industry Index

Spy FilesThe Surveillance Industry Index is the largest catalogue of the private surveillance sector ever assembled, comprising of materials collected at surveillance trade shows around the world and information provided by Wikileaks and other organisations. Read more »

Surveillance Who's Who

Surveillance Who's WhoSurveillance Who's Who exposes the government agencies that attended six ISS World conferences between 2006 and 2009. ISS world is a surveillance trade show known to industry insiders as 'The Wiretappers' Ball'. Read more »

Global CAUSE

CAUSEThe Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports, made up of Privacy International, along with Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, FIDH, Human Rights Watch, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, and Reporters without Borders, aims to hold governments and private companies accountable for the international trade in communication surveillance technologies. Read more »

Big Brother Inc.

Blog
Eric King's picture

report released today by Citizen Lab has uncovered further evidence that British company Gamma International has sold their surveillance technology FinFisher to repressive regimes abroad, despite having no export licence to do so. The report builds on investigations conducted last year  that demonstrated that Gamma International has been exporting FinFisher without a license to repressive regimes with dismal human rights records

Blog
Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan's picture

In order to lawfully conduct communications surveillance (“lawful interception”) in the U.S. and Western Europe, a law enforcement agency must seek authorisation from a court and produce an order to a network operator or internet service provider, which is then obliged to intercept and then to deliver the requested information. In contrast, Russian Federal Security Service operatives (FSB) can conduct surveillance directly by utilising lawful interception equipment called SORM.

SORM

In the media
Publisher: 
CNN
Publication date: 
14-Feb-2013
Author(s): 
Wenzel Michalski and Ben Wagner
Original story link: 

An example of these tensions is percolating through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Last week, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights and Privacy International filed complaints with the OECD against two companies in the U.K. and Germany. The groups asked the OECD to investigate whether the companies exported surveillance technologies to Bahrain, and whether those technologies contributed to human rights abuses because the spyware sold by the companies allowed the government to monitor, identify, and ultimately retaliate against its critics.

In the media
Publisher: 
Bloomberg
Publication date: 
05-Feb-2013
Author(s): 
Vernon Silver
Original story link: 

The complaints filed Feb. 1 seek probes of whether U.K.- based Gamma Group and Munich-based Trovicor GmbH violated guidelines for business conduct set out by the Paris-based OECD, according to Privacy International, one of five groups behind the effort.
...

The rights groups plan to use any OECD probes and recommendations to press the companies to drop any business with Bahrain, disclose contracts with governments around the globe and remotely disable products suspected in human rights violations, according to a Privacy International briefing paper on the filings.

“We very much hope the OECD process will persuade Gamma and Trovicor to take a long hard look at their current and future clients, and to think carefully about the role their products play in the targeting and torture of activists and the suppression of pro-democracy voices,” Eric King, the head of research at London-based Privacy International, said in a statement.

 

Blog
Chloe Shuffrey's picture

On 1st February 2013 Privacy International, together with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch and Reporters without Borders, filed complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against Gamma International, a company that exports “FinFisher” (or “FinSpy”) intrusive surveillance software, and Trovicor GmbH, a German company (formerly a business unit of Siemens) which also sells internet monitoring and mass surveillance products. The complaints ask the UK and German National Contact Points (NCPs), to ascertain whether the technology companies have breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by exporting surveillance products to Bahrain, where the authorities use such products in human rights abuses.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Observer
Publication date: 
03-Feb-2013
Author(s): 
Jamie Doward
Original story link: 

The allegations raise concerns about the export of British technology to oppressive regimes. Tomorrow the campaigners Privacy International will join forces with human rights groups, including the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and Bahrain Watch, to file a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development alleging that Gamma International UK is in breach of OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises. A separate complaint is being filed against a German company.

...

According to Privacy International, Gamma's FinFisher (or FinSpy) suite of software products "is a particularly dangerous and sophisticated piece of surveillance technology" that is difficult to detect. The software targets individuals' devices and then relays information back to the sender, including the contents of all emails, Skype conversations and address books.
 

Press release

Privacy International, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch and Reporters without Borders filed formal complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the UK and Germany against two surveillance companies on Friday 1st February. The British and German National Contact Points are being asked to investigate Gamma International and Trovicor respectively with regards to both companies’ potential complicity in serious human rights abuses in Bahrain

Blog
Chloe Shuffrey's picture

The social news website MiroirSocial.com confirmed yesterday that the prominent French technology firm Bull SA has sold its controversial mass surveillance "Eagle" system to Stéphane Salies, one of its chief designers and an ex-director of Bull. The surveillance software was previously manufactured and supplied by Bull’s subsidiary, Amesys, a company that is currently the subject of a judicial enquiry in Paris following a legal complaint filed by two human rights organisations, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights League. It is alleged that the company became complicit in acts of torture by supplying its Eagle surveillance equipment to the Gaddafi regime in Libya.

After manuals bearing the Amesys logo were discovered by journalists from Wall Street Journal in the old regime’s internal security building, Amesys admitted that in 2007 it had contracted with the Libyan government to develop and supply internet surveillance technology that would enable Libyan authorities to intercept the communications of political activists and dissidents on a mass scale.

Press release

In his response to the third report from the Foreign Affairs Committee Session 2012-13, Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed for the first time the government's firm commitment to putting in place new export controls on "telecommunications equipment for which there is a reasonable expectation that it might be used to restrict freedom of expression on the internet". He added that the government was committed to "working with international partners through the mechanism of the Wassenaar Arrangement in order to agree a specific control list of goods, software and technology" and that this work would continue into 2013.

In the media
Publisher: 
TechWeek Europe
Publication date: 
16-Jan-2013
Author(s): 
Tom Brewster
Original story link: 

Privacy International has pursued the case, calling on the UK government to look into whether Gamma had broken the law, but selling into nations such as Bahrain and Egypt.

“Governments should be controlling exports of all products that can be used in abusive surveillance practices – even those that also have perfectly legitimate alternative uses,” Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, told TechWeekEurope today.

“Export licences are granted on a case-by-case basis and hundreds of ‘dual-use’ products are already controlled, so preventing technologies like BlueCoat’s being sold to repressive foreign regimes, regimes that are renowned for their casual disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens, should not be so difficult.”

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