Critics say U.S. spy tech aids oppressive regimes abroad

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The multi-billion dollar electronic surveillance industry, which has grown roots in California and around the U.S., has certainly aided the war on terror, but is it aiding oppressive regimes such as the Chinese and Syrian governments? The Washington Post says signs point to yes. And government regulations aren’t keeping up.

After receiving from WikiLeaks sales brochures from companies that create both hardware and software to aid digital surveillance, the Post looked into the issue. The tools can scan network traffic via WiFi, cpy on users’ computers after being installed as a fradulent iTunes update, and more. 

Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur Jerry Lucas hosted his first trade show for makers of surveillance gear at the McLean Hilton in May 2002. Thirty-five people attended.

Nine years later, Lucas holds five events annually around the world, drawing hundreds of vendors and thousands of potential buyers for an industry that he estimates sells $5 billion of the latest tracking, monitoring and eavesdropping technology each year. Along the way, these events have earned an evocative nickname: the Wiretappers’ Ball.

These events, held in multiple countries all over the world (the U.S. included) are invite-only and provide an opportunity for governments, local law enforcement agencies, and intelligence agencies to meet with vendors.

Lucas says the technology does a great deal of good

This technology is absolutely vital for civilization,” said Lucas, president of TeleStrategies, which hosts the events, officially called Intelligent Support Systems World Conferences. “You can’t have a situation where bad guys can communicate and you bar interception.

Critics say the technology does a great deal of harm as well, allowing governments to abuse the technology’s far-reaching powers to meet goals of opressing free speech, censoring the internet, and crushing rebellion.

The WikiLeaks documents, which the group also provided to several European news organizations and one in India, do not reveal the names of buyers. But when Arab Spring revolutionaries took control of state security agencies in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, they found that Western surveillance technology had been used to monitor political activists.

There are official sanctions against oppressive countries which prevent trading of arms and other tools of oppression, but this fast-growing industry has not been closely tracked by lawmakers, allowing it to outgrow these regulations. Some legislaters are bringing this issue to attention, but it has largely failed to gain traction.

As a nation that publicly supports peaceful uprisings in the Middle East and decries China’s oppression of its people, the U.S. is in no position to be the origin of these regime’s tools.

Photo/Creative Commons/ Flickr user wickedboy_007

 

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