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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.

In the media
Publisher: 
Radio Télévision Suisse
Publication date: 
18-Sep-2013
Author(s): 
Pauline Turuban
Original story link: 

L'ONG Privacy International s'en alarme, et vient d'ailleurs de lancer une campagne auprès de la Confédération visant à bloquer les demandes et renforcer les contrôles pour ce type d'exportations.

In the media
Publisher: 
Radio Télévision Suisse
Publication date: 
17-Sep-2013
Author(s): 
Yann Dieuaide
Original story link: 

L'ONG Privacy International a écrit à 70 parlementaires suisses et au Secrétariat d'Etat à l'économie (SECO), pour demander que soient refusées les demandes d'autorisation d'exportation récemment faites par Gamma Group.

Blog
Kenneth Page's picture

For some time now, Gamma International has been criticised for exporting dangerous surveillance technologies from the UK to repressive regimes. Now, we are learning that the company is taking its show on the road, as recent reports have said that Gamma are now attempting to export its products, including the spyware FinFisher, out of Switzerland.

Opinion piece
Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan's picture

This is a excerpt from a piece, written by Privacy International partners Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, which appears in the Fall issue of the World Policy Journal:

In March 2013, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the U.S. State Department issued a warning for Americans wanting to come to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next February: Beware of SORM. The System of Operative-Investigative Measures, or SORM, is Russia’s national system of lawful interception of all electronic utterances—an Orwellian network that jeopardizes privacy and the ability to use telecommunications to oppose the government. The U.S. warning ends with a list of “Travel Cyber Security Best Practices,” which, apart from the new technology, resembles the briefing instructions for a Cold War-era spy:

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

This week in London, the world's largest arms fair DSEI rolled into town, bringing together some of the world’s most sophisticated killing and torture equipment with some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. On sale this year was also some of the UK’s premier lawful interception and surveillance technology.

Considering the forum in which these technologies are being sold, and the caliber of customers looking to buy it, you would think that the sale of such technology from the UK is regulated in a similar way to the military equipment also on offer. 

In the media
Publisher: 
CorpWatch
Publication date: 
04-Sep-2013
Author(s): 
Pratap Chatterjee
Original story link: 

“This is clearly not an ad-hoc process within a small industry, but a calculated and considered business deal in a global trade with profits made off the suffering of individuals,” says Page. “As the Wikileaks release today has shown, the business procedure behind the sale of surveillance technology is as well laid out as any other international trade - including proposals and presentations, site and country visits, contracts, and costing packages.”

In the media
Publisher: 
InfoSecurity
Publication date: 
04-Sep-2013
Original story link: 

According to Privacy International (PI) the mechanics of state-sponsored surveillance are increasingly being privatised. "Unequivocally," it said, "the newest SpyFiles documents show that this dark industry only continues to grow, in both technical capability and customer base, all while amassing billions in profits from the suffering of individuals. The types of surveillance being marketed by these companies represent some of the most sophisticated technologies available -- whether it's instrusion software, data mining, trojans, location tracking, deep packet inspection, facial recognition, or mass monitoring."

Blog
Kenneth Page's picture

Through our Big Brother Incorporated project, Privacy International over the past two years has been campaigning against the export of surveillance technologies by Western companies to repressive regimes. One of the seminal moments of this campaign was in 2011, when we partnered with Wikileaks to release the SpyFiles, which catalogued hundreds of brochures, presentations, marketing videos, and technical specifications exposing the inner workings of the international trade in surveillance technologies.

In the media
Publisher: 
International Business Times
Publication date: 
28-Aug-2013
Author(s): 
Alfred Joyner
Original story link: 

Privacy International, a London-based charity which is concerned about Dr Shehabi's safety and the sale of the Finfisher software to intolerant regimes, has now filed a complaint against British HM revenue & customs.

"We recently filed for judicial review of HMRC's refusal to disclose any information to us on whether or not they are investigating a company called Gamma International. Gamma International is a UK company that has developed and is selling a product called FinFisher. FinFisher is malicious software that once it's installed on your computer or mobile phone your every movement online can be tracked," explained Alinda Vermeer, legal advisor at Privacy International.

Blog
Alinda Vermeer's picture

Following reports that the Mexican prosecution authority appears to be not only using FinFisher, but also to be involved in a corruption scandal surrounding the purchase of this intrusive surveillance technology, the Mexican Permanent Commission (composed of members of the Mexican Senate and Congress) has urged Mexico's Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection (IFAI) to investigate the use of spyware in Mexico.

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