The document trove, called the Surveillance Industry Index (SII) and released by Privacy International, and contains 1,203 documents from 338 companies in 36 countries, all of which detail surveillance technologies. Some advertised capabilities are astounding: A firm named Glimmerglass, which produces monitoring and repair equipment for undersea cables, touts in a brochure that its equipment enables "dynamic selection and distribution of signals for analysis and storage."
The documents are included in an online database compiled by the research watchdog Privacy International, which has spent four years gathering 1,203 brochures and sales pitches used at conventions in Dubai, Prague, Brasilia, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and London. Analysts posed as potential buyers to gain access to the private fairs.
The database, called the Surveillance Industry Index, shows how firms from the UK, Israel, Germany, France and the US offer governments a range of systems that allow them to secretly hack into internet cables carrying email and phone traffic.
Privacy International (PI), a UK-based privacy rights group, recently wrote a letter to Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, regarding grants to the tune of R3.6-million provided to VASTech.
VASTech is one of the South African companies linked to to the so-called mass surveillance industry by WikiLeaks, which said VASTech’s Zebra system was used in Libya by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
Human rights organisation Privacy International (PI) has written to the South African government to ask why the Department of Trade and Industry used R3 563 506.45 of public money to fund the development of a telecoms surveillance tool capable of capturing up to 40 million minutes of voice calls a month, which was deployed by the Libyan regime under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
If you were a Middle Eastern tyrant or a Central Asian strongman, and you suddenly found your position of power under threat, where would turn for assistance? Well, Paris, it seems, is actually pretty good start.
Humanitarian agencies are collecting personal information for Syrians caught in the crossfire of a drawn-out and bloody civil war. Indeed, refugees fleeing persecution and conflict, need to access services and protection offered by the world’s humanitarian community. But in the rush to provide necessary aid to those afflicted by the crisis in Syria, humanitarian organisations are overlooking a human right that also needs protecting: the right to privacy.
On at least two separate occasions, the South African government has provided funding to a well-resourced surveillance company for the development of mass surveillance technologies, the very equipment found to be used by the Gaddafi's repressive military regime in Libya, according to documents uncovered by Privacy International.
Sam Smith, a technologist at Privacy International, said the unencrypted data could hypothetically relate to any of Microsoft's cloud services, from Hotmail and Outlook.com email accounts to Xbox Live, Office 365 and SkyDrive cloud storage.
This response seems unlikely to reassure Smith who commented, "Unless Microsoft takes immediate action to rectify this situation, any business or individual using their services to store or transmit sensitive data will have been fundamentally let down by a brand that suggested it was worthy of trust."
Earlier this year, The Washington Post claimed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had developed a method nine years ago to locate cellphones when they were powered down. The publication didn’t provide technical details on the software or hardware involved, leaving security researchers puzzled by the revelations. Seeking clarification on the technologies invoked, British privacy watchdog Privacy International conducted a survey of eight cellphone manufacturers in August to obtain details on how it would be possible to track a cellphone once it’s turned off.
The following is an excerpt from a Comment originally publihsed by The Guardian, written by Privacy International's Head of Advocacy, Carly Nyst:
From databases to mobile phone apps and SMS systems, GPS tracking and humanitarian drones to biometric registration, new technologies are rapidly becoming central to the delivery of humanitarian and development aid.
In a move that echoes strong action taken in the past by European officials to protect privacy, the Belgian and Dutch data protection authorities on Wednesday announced that they will begin an investigation into the security of the SWIFT financial system.
Anna Fielder of Privacy International also commented, saying that "Privacy and consumer advocates absolutely do not want data protection and data flows to be included in the TTIP negotiations; simply put, a trade agreement is not the best place to deal with such issues."
"The telecommunications companies can actually do an astonishing amount to push back against this sort of surveillance," Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, told DW. "It's plain that the Tempora program is almost certainly unlawful… Companies don't have an obligation to comply with unlawful requests, and should they wish to challenge them, they would be well within their rights to do so, and would likely be successful."
Today's hearing was built up in some media circles as an historic ‘public grilling’ of the heads of the UK’s Intelligence Agencies as Mi5, Mi6 and GCHQ appeared in public in front of their oversight committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee.
The heads of the main UK Intelligence Agencies are all giving evidence to Parliament today, on camera for the first time. The fact that this has as of yet not happened demonstrates how obsolete the UK’s oversight regime is. The UK political establishment revels in its historical traditions, but this can result in archaic proceedings, stuck in another century, refusing to move forward with the modern era. With a time delay (allegedly a few minutes, but possibly 20 years), we get to view the stream of the third debate in three weeks.
Though it is unsurprising that allied intelligence agencies cooperate and share information, the document did reveal a new facet of the relationship. "What we weren't previously aware of was the level of collusion when it comes to getting round surveillance law," Privacy International spokesman Mike Rispoli told DW. "We can't really be sure, but what we can infer is that when government officials discuss information sharing, they say, 'look at our laws here, look at what we're doing, look how lax our surveillance law is here, … you should get on board with this.' "
"With each passing day, the public finds out more and more how private companies are colluding with governments to operate mass surveillance programs that intercept our daily phone calls, text messages, emails and personal data," said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International.
"Far from being coerced, it appears some of the companies have gone well beyond their legal responsibility by colluding with GCHQ on its Tempora [data collection] programme.
Six global telecommunications companies - British Telecom, Interoute, Level Three, Verizon Enterprise, Viatel and Vodafone Cable - are the subject of a formal complaint by Privacy International for potential violation of human rights such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
“We call on these companies to do the right thing and halt their involvement with mass surveillance and hope the OECD will investigate what steps, if any, the companies took to defend the human rights of their customers," said King.
Privacy International is challenging ISPs BT and Vodafone and other companies in the telecommunications industry, including Viatel, Verizon and Level 3.
It has also tried to take the UK government in front of a legal tribunal (PDF) to ascertain whether it has acted outside the law, and has filed a claim with the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT).
Privacy International has filed complaints against U.K. telecommunications companies for assisting British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) with mass interception of telephone and Internet traffic that passes through undersea fiber optic cables.
The formal complaints were filed with the U.K. office of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which publishes guidelines for responsible business conduct followed by 44 governments including the U.K.
Privacy International argued that while tech firms such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo have been able to prove their resistance to government access requests, BT, Level 3 and the other companies appear to have rolled over under pressure.
"With each passing day, the public finds out more and more how private companies are colluding with governments to operate mass surveillance programs that intercept our daily phone calls, text messages, emails, and personal data," said the group's head of research, Eric King.
The group believes the companies may have violated a number of OECD guidelines on human rights, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression, by giving GCHQ access to their fibre-optic cables. It had already written to the providers, but received no response.
Privacy International now wants a formal investigation, and for the companies to come clean about how they collaborated with GCHQ on snooping programmes, like the cable tapping Tempora project.
Yesterday Privacy International filed complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against some of the world's leading telecommunication companies for providing assistance to GCHQ's Tempora programme. The group believes up to a dozen OECD guidelines, relating to companies' responsibilities to respect human rights, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression, may have been violated.
“With each passing day, the public finds out more and more how private companies are colluding with governments to operate mass surveillance programs that intercept our daily phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and personal data,” said Eric King of Privacy International in a statement.
Privacy International Chair Anna Fielder speaks with BBC Newsnight about Tesco's plans to implement face-scanning technology in their stores.
Privacy International today has filed formal complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the UK against some of the world’s leading telecommunication companies, for providing assistance to British spy agency GCHQ in the mass interception of internet and telephone traffic passing through undersea fibre optic cables.