computer-l

People may think they know the extent of mass surveillance. Hailed by many as a hero, Edward Snowden ignited widespread awareness of secret surveillance in the USA and Britain earlier this year. However, what people are yet to find out is that mass surveillance is not only happening but that it has actually become an industry worth billions of dollars per year. ‘Lawful interception’ is secretly being marketed – on an unimaginable scale – all over the globe.

Since December 2011, WikiLeaks has been publishing The Spy Files – consisting of hundreds of documents revealing the buying and selling of ‘lawful interception’ products. According to WikiLeaks, Spy files is a project committed to exposing this new secret industry of global mass surveillance that has boomed since 9/11, spanning 25 countries. Working with 6 partner media organisations (The Washington Post in the US, Bureau of investigative journalism in the UK, ARD in Germany, OWNI in France, L’Espresso in Italy and The Hindu in India) they work to compose of, and release a database of documents from western intelligence contractors to show how companies are marketing surveillance equipment on an international scale.

Recently, on September 4th 2013, WikiLeaks released ‘Spy Files #3’ –249 documents from 92 global intelligence contractors – revealing the increasing expansion of this mass surveillance industry. The documents show how state intelligence agencies in the US, UK, Europe and other developing world countries, are spending millions on contemporary technology and interception methods marketed by corporate companies, that can target masses of people at once – even whole populations. Spy Files #3 is comprised of brochures, catalogues and presentations; all disclosing exactly what spyware is available on the market.

For instance, on the market for internet monitoring, includes selling the ability to collect intelligence from publicly available sources, such as news sites, blogs, RSS feeds and social media. In one brochure, a company called Kapow softwares is currently selling the ability to “harvest text in any language, images, audio, video from websites, blogs and social media”. Alluring investors in, Kapow softwares is selling their ability to “accurately harvest” the contents on websites such as Facebook, twitter, flickr, Skype, YouTube, CNN and Aljazeera in the name of national security. Other various contractors are also selling ‘lawful interception’ systems that can intercept personal emails and instant messages.

Lawful interception methods are also sold for phone monitoring – products that can intercept calls in mass. Contractors boast in their brochures of how their spyware can “intercept” and “retain” “continuous flows of telephone conversations”. Phone monitoring surveillance also includes products for speech analysis. Companies such as Agnitio – a Spanish contractor, are selling software for intelligence interception systems which enable speech identification and analysis. Agnito in particular sell what they call a ‘Biometric Speaker Spotting System’, with functions that enable speaker identification, gender identification and language identification.

As well as marketing these types of surveillance, contractors are also selling methods such as audio forensics, data retention, SMS monitoring and GPS tracking systems (amongst many other spy gadgets named with technical jargon). Currently the US hosts 32 companies marketing such technology and the UK is home for 17. Some companies – including Comstrac and Telesoft technologies in the UK – sell not only one, but all of these methods of surveillance to intelligence agencies! Another UK contractor, Gamma Group, is one of few contractors in Europe to not only market technologies such as these but also Trojans – manufactured viruses used to hack into the operating systems of computers and smart phones.

Spy Files #3 reveals more than just what’s up for sale however, also exposing what they are sold for. One price list published by contractor griffcomm shows that GPS trackers and accessories are going for as high as 6,540 euros – roughly £4,360! If prices for GPS trackers are in the thousands one can only speculate the prices for mass telephone interception systems and speech recognition software. But, what is clear is this is a highly competitive and lucrative industry. The privatisation of intelligence!

Now whether or not this industry of mass surveillance is a good or bad thing, really depends on your point of view. The affects in terms of national security, terrorism and crime can be seen positively no doubt. But in terms of personal privacy and the tracking of domestic communications, this can be seen as a very expensive erosion of civil liberties. Personally I believe that whatever side of the security/privacy debate you’re on, the most important thing to remember is that this industry has boomed in secret – if intentions are merely for national security why the secrecy?

BY: Rachael Davey