Intersections of the 3. By Margaret Hagan

Posts Tagged: Surveillance Technologies


Despite an embargo firmly in place against Syria, somehow the Syrian government has been using proxy and filtering devices from US company BlueCoat to track and censor their citizens during the past months of activism.

The Syrian Telecommunications Establishment may well have gotten them second hand, meaning the company didn’t violate any law — but for now BlueCoat has decided to deny that their equipment is being used in Syria at all, despite logs published by Telecomix to the contrary

Leila Nachawati provides a full report over at Global Voices Advocacy.



The EU Parliament will implement new export restrictions on companies’ export of surveillance technologies to countries with a record of human rights violations. 

If an EU company that wants to sell tech that could be used to monitor citizens’ phone calls, text messages and internet activity, they will need approval not only from their national governments — but they will also need to declare it to the EU within 30 days of the goods’ departure from the EU. 

No EU-level pre-export approval is required, though.  The new control applies to export to countries which are subject to a general arms embargo.



From the

Jillian York at the EFF rounds up the recent reports of US and European tech companies that are selling surveillance technologies to foreign governments, presumably for use against their citizens.  Some of the relationships:

Nokia-Siemens sells surveillance software to Bahrain.

Amesys and VASTech SA sell to Libya.

Bluecoat sells deep packet inspection tools to Syria.

Netfirms turns over information about US citizen to Thailand.

Cisco and Nortel sell surveillance technology to China.

York sums it up:

What’s chillingly clear is that significant portions of the worldwide Internet are under surveillance using invasive technologies produced by American and European companies, who are in large part free to export technology that could be used for censorship or surveillance. The general lack of meaningful controls means that the privacy and safety of individuals has been left to corporations, through the promotion of the “corporate social responsibility” concept, and also through the rule of law. But clearly, important questions remain about the kind of pressure that it takes for corporate social responsibility to be meaningful, as well as the validity in relying on the rule of law in countries where it is weak or non-existent.

Who is watching the corporations?  DOS talks about Internet Freedom around the world, but it seems to be only the NGOs who are putting any pressure on tech companies about the human rights implications of what they’re selling to whom.



In The New York Times, Evegeny Morozov reviews the recent revelations of which Western tech companies are supplying surveillance & censorship technologies to suspect regimes.  In the wake of the Arab Spring protests, more of these exports have been revealed — including some new, surprising kinds of surveillance mechanisms.

His round-up:

Libya & Qadaffi bought surveillance tech from France & South Africa, and was in talks with Narus (a US company owned by Boeing)

Narus supplied surveillance tech to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia

Siemens (German), Trovicor (German) and Nokia Siemens (Finnish) supplied Bahrain with system to intercept and transcribe citizens’ text messages

Gamma Intl (UK) supplied Mubarak/Egypt with trial version of tool to wiretap Skype conversations

Netsweeper (Canada), Websense (US), and McAfee (US) sell censorship systems to Middle East & North African governments

As for prescriptions, Mozorov doubts that simple export controls is enough.  He wants something more systematic, and with more attention to how US and European states rely on surveillance technology.

"The obvious response is to ban the export of such technologies to repressive governments. But as long as Western states continue using monitoring technologies themselves, sanctions won’t completely eliminate the problem — the supply will always find a way to meet the demand. Moreover, dictators who are keen on fighting extremism are still welcome in Washington: it’s a good bet that much of the electronic spying done in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt was done with the tacit support of his American allies.

What we need is a recognition that our reliance on surveillance technology domestically — even if it is checked by the legal system — is inadvertently undermining freedom in places where the legal system provides little if any protection. That recognition should, in turn, fuel tighter restrictions on the domestic surveillance-technology sector, including a reconsideration of the extent to which it actually needs such technology in our increasingly privacy-free world.”

Source: The New York Times


The New York Times & The New Yorker report that the NSA is using the premise of investigating foreign citizens to ‘inadvertently’ read the electronic communications of massive numbers of US citizens.

From The New Yorker:

"The N.S.A. has, according to the Times, collected and read many more e-mails sent by Americans than had been known—more, some in Congress and on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court think, than it had any legal right to. It worked, roughly, like this: the N.S.A. would want to listen in on someone—someone foreign. But, what with routers and servers, it isn’t always clear on e-mail who is American (and thus generally off limits) and who isn’t. A new law, passed last year, let them collect a bit more freely if, as the Times put it, ‘it was done only as the incidental byproduct of investigating individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.’

But the N.S.A. seems to have taken this as a free pass to scoop up e-mails in a wholesale manner. An analyst told the Times that “the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants—including Bill Clinton’s private correspondence.”