Private eyes are watching all of us

The idea that repression only happens “over there” is a myth that needs to be constantly challenged (my recent PEN lecture tackled this).

Take this (via Pro Publica):

Cellphone companies hold onto your location information for years and routinely provide it to police and, in anonymized form, to outside companies.

As they note in their privacy policies, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile all analyze your information to send you targeted ads for their own services or from outside companies.… At least tens ofthousands of times… a year, they also hand cellphone location information to the FBI or police officers who have a court order.

But ProPublica discovered that there’s one person cell phone companies will not share your location information with: You.

We asked three ProPublica staffers and one friend to request their own geo-location data from the four largest cellphone providers. All four companies refused to provide it.

The latest Wikileaks “Syria Files” reveal Western firms are more than happy to assist a repressive state to make a dollar. And they’re largely protected legally in the West as the state is happy to utilise the same technology to monitor its own citizens. Here’s some details via Ars Technica:

As the US and Europe leveled increasingly severe sanctions on Syria, Western tech companies were still working eagerly with the Assad regime and Syrian government-owned entities. This is according to e-mails obtained by Wikileaks, dating from 2006 up until March of 2012. The e-mails are now being published in waves by Wikileaks, both through its own website and through a collection of news organizations.

The… first wave of released documents—25 out of more than two million e-mails obtained by Wikileaks—focuses on Italian networking and systems integration vendor SELEX (a subsidiary of Finmeccanica—which, coincidentally, also owns Agusta, the… helicopter manufacturer tied to the development of the Chinese Z-10 attack helicopter)… and Greek network integrator Intracom. E-mails between representatives of the two companies published by Wikileaks show how they worked around the ever-tightening political noose of trade sanctions to bring a joint project in Syria to completion. That project?… A secure software-defined radio network… for the Syrian government based on SELEX’s TETRA trunked radio network hardware.

The… VS-3000… and… AS-3000 mobile TETRA transceivers, delivered under the contract—for what was advertised as a “public safety” network for emergency and disaster response—provide mobile voice and data for ground vehicles, coastal patrol craft, and aircraft. They link to a nationwide grid of ground stations connected by a fiber-optic network. But starting in May of last year, the project was expanded from its original 40 million euro price tag by more than 25 percent. A February invoice for the project totaled over 66 million euros. Those expansions came as the Syrian government requested TEA3 encryption for the radio system and started rolling it out to police.

Work by the two companies continued throughout the violent suppression of dissidents in Syria through February of this year. This included a trip to Damascus by SELEX engineers to assist in the installation of radios and accessories (some of which were delivered personally by the engineers). And throughout the project, SELEX continued to come up with alternative ways to source the components for the project as successive sanctions began to create problems with the company’s supply chain.

SELEX’s gear fell into the grey area of the… September 2011 restrictions… set by the EU—the sanctions allowed for telecommunications services, but banned the export of hardware and software that had specific military applications. But the contract, officially issued by the Syrian Wireless Organization, was signed by Imad Abdul-Ghani Sabbouni (Syria’s Minister of Communications). Sabbouni was individually named in EU sanctions in February 2012 for being involved in the censorship and monitoring of Syrian citizens’ Internet access. While not technically in violation of EU sanctions (at least up until February), there were some problems getting the gear exported.

The company also had to work around US bans on technology shipments to Syria, since many of the connectors for the fiber-optic gear Syria ordered from SELEX were manufactured in the US. In an e-mail thread from October 2011, SELEX Program Manager Simone Bonechi and Intracom Syria TETRA Project Manager Mohammad Shoorbajee discussed a delay in delivery of fiber-optic backbone gear because of those prohibitions—specifically, coupling cables for optical “choppers” used to modulate light being transmitted over a fiber-optic backbone. Shoorbajee wrote, “The customer is becoming very suspicious of us for not sending the cable. Do you recommend I say anything to them?”

Bonechi responded that there had been a delay because “we have to manage an unexpected problem with some connectors, part of the goods under shipment, which are manufactured in USA.” SELEX scrambled to find an alternative supplier for the connectors, as Shoorbajee reported that SWO’s representatives were “getting worried each day” that embargoes would block completion of the project.


Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

Site by Common