EFF: Governments’ Internet Surveillance Built in the West

Posted by Cartri on Sep 3, 2011 in Fast News / ReTweets |

What has long been an EFF issue is once again making headlines. In recent days, the world is seeing damning reports of authoritarian regimes spying on their citizens using American- and European-made surveillance technologies, with new evidence emerging from Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Thailand.

Last week, Bloomberg reported on Bahrain’s use of Nokia-Siemens surveillance software to intercept messages and gather information on human rights activists, resulting in their arrest and torture. AWall Street Journal article published this week alleges the use of products in Libya created by the French company Amesys and the South African firm VASTech SA Pty Ltd.

New evidence uncovered by hacktivists suggests that American-made Bluecoat technologies have been used for deep packet inspection by Syrian authorities, and a report from Reporters Without Borders alleges that Canadian web hosting company Netfirms, Inc., which also has offices in the United States, turned over sensitive information about a US citizen of Thai origin that resulted in his arrest upon entering Thailand.

In the past, EFF has documented the sale of surveillance equipment by several companies, including Cisco and Nortel, to China. Two ongoing cases allege that surveillance technology sold to China by Cisco enabled human rights violations.

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.

In 2010, EFF applauded the stance of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in calling on American companies to take a principled stand and urging U.S. companies to take “a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance”. We also noted her endorsement of the Global Network Initiative, which brings together companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft and organizations like EFF, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Human Rights Watch to address issues of privacy and free expression.

But despite progress on these issues from social networking sites, we have seen few changes in respect to the sale of surveillance and filtering tools to authoritarian regimes by companies based in the United States and other democratic countries. Leading companies like Cisco are in the process of developing policies to help guide their business choices, but even those policies feel flat when the end result is still censorship and surveillance. And that’s just Cisco – there’s little public evidence of smaller technology companies incorporating human rights into the decision-making process.

Or as researcher Evgeny Morozov asks in a New York Times op-ed published today, “Left uncontrolled, Western surveillance tools could undermine the “Internet freedom” agenda in the same way arms exports undermine Western-led peace initiatives. How many activists, finding themselves confronted with information collected using Western technology, would trust the pronouncements of Western governments again?”


Source: EFF.org

Personal Comment: Where this is going to leave us?


  • lamepostislame says:

    And in other news… knives manufactured in the U.S. and Europe were used to stab people.

    Seriously, what’s your point? I can’t see how everyone can be held responsible for all their customers decide to use their products for. That way lies the madness of the oppressive state interference you abhor.

    • Cartri says:

      1st, sincere sorry for the spam system, if you could imagine how many bots… I fight askimet to read my comments, spam bots are increasing as a tech you know…

      Hope not late, lets reply, as I think debate is the best form not only to create consensus but also alternatives that maybe both parts couldn’t imagine before.

      Firstly, I do not abhor govs. interference, I really really think that this kind of thing should be debated inside (and outside) companies and producers own ethics. As I do have mine and you should have yours in some subject: Ethics is particular not only to the person, but to the society around him.

      When I ask the rhetoric “Where this is going to leave us?” it is really a point to think about, not to conclude a thought…

      On governments, and on companies alike, I guess this subject is a point of objective negligence. It is just easier to pressure govs (which are elected by us) then companies about any ethics matter in any country where the gov really represents it’s people: like mine in the past gov, which had more then 65% of votes in a 87% rate participation election.

      Lets travel a lil back in time, I dislike commenting this time in History, but I guess it is the biggest mark in western society since the French Revolution: 2nd World War.

      At that time, IBM had business with the Germany National-Fascist (Nazi) Regime. It is documented, argumented, hitoriographically proved, that one technician had to be inside each concentration camp to catch and give services to the punched-card systems that were used to control people inside the camps.

      Notice that this can be looked as something terrible by us nowadays, but in the time, the argument was not different from yours in the beginning of your reply.

      I am not here to say “blame IBM, blame companies who helped those who lost the war” nor the opposite: the objective of my posts are to raise debates over subjects, and as a person, “son of my time”, I have the need to point what is my point of view or concerns so other people can object while posting something.

      Basically Obviousness-PhD, lol.

      Back to the points you raise, I could be mostly libertarian-thinker than leftist or pro-state-interference like you say: If you ask about State Interference in UK or China, I would obviously be careful, but not from where I am.

      My country has suffered of 20+ years of state-declared-censorship, My Country issued an arrest warrant against Sophocles – as I use it as a symbol of the height, peak of a restrictive public policy you can get – and even today the country suffers the results of this process that, independent of outsiders interference, was “accepted”; by the dominant part of society.

      So, when we look at govs. surveillance over anything, I do that questioning:
      1 – what legitimacy has this government in a democratic system, how much does it really represent the majority of people – In other words, how much the Demo Kratos is being “Demo”, belonging to the people.
      2 – How much the private initiative (be it the 2nd or 3rd – civil – sector of society) really defends the people interests.

      In this case, I have to go back to my Country History: It is nothing to be proud of, excepting for some moments (historical hiccups like 1961-64 “problem” solving) where liberty wishes were expressed by people themselves.

      The good part of being “heir” of 20 years of US-Controlled Dictatorship (And I don’t care if it was controlled by who, but if this who is protecting foreign or national interests), is that we learn something about information control, and revive values that – in my opinion – are getting “out-fashioned” too fast: freedom of expression, democratic civilian control of State and minor matters.

      I don’t know how it is called out there but here we call “The 3rd Sector” when we talk about normal people organizing to influence governments so that their votes are taken in count. That is what it is about.

      What I abhor is the debate, and yes, as a debate argument I do think a great hypocrisy if a company under or a government who signed the Human Rights Letter produce some kind of technology that is intended to break human rights.


      That is not something we “accomplish to serve rules”, but something we construct as person or society, and I am not abhorring any above other: we know well what are the concepts that are evolved in human rights, the implicit deficiency of our government systems over it. We just don’t accept it as it was intended to be, and for one of the 1st times in 500 years.

      Maybe our difference starts with the definition of “State” and “Government”, and maybe even “interference”.

      I live in the only place in the 3 Americas who served as a Colony and later as the Empire Capital (“United Kingdom Of Brazil, Portugal and Algarves”, and later “Neuter Municipal-Court’s Realm” under the same dinasty).

      Resuming: Rio de Janeiro’s court already ruled over Europe’s once “Finisterrae”.

      Our Rights are not only descendant, but also creators of the actual global order. Besides neglected, I live in the place where The – in 18th˜19th Century – world’s 1st potency had it’s capital city – That is Rio. There is no “proud” in saying that, much more a shame.

      Reading about History in contemporary North America Or Europe in this period is no bigger or smaller shame in my opinion in this period of Western Civilization. We can not anachronistically apply today’s world powers (be it governmental or corporative, this makes no change in the analysis) to the constructon of these same powers.

      Indeed, we are all heir of the blame on how we left companies (or any private group of interest – Corporative, Party or Governamental) rule over people and govs in the 20th Century as we are in the construction of the ambient to that happen.

      Getting to your primordial question: “Seriously, what’s your point?”.


      That is all.

      If I propose a governmental, corporative, or civil control over technology, that does not matter, as soon as the persons behind this, have ethics.

      I would quit my job if someone asked me to code something to limit people’s rights.

      I will give a recent example here:

      An unknown figure of my city, and my Country’s History, is the figure of Sérigo Carvalho, An Brazilian-Air-Forces Captain who had received after the coup-de-etat the order to air-bomb the “Gasometro” Power Plant (Société Anonyme du Gaz du Rio de Janeiro), and with it half of the city.

      The Captain, lead a squad until the place and then diverted route to his squad.

      The Gasometro remains there until nowadays (under peaceful and secure dismount), together with some of the most important historic buildings of the country’s history.

      Despite being away from the military for refusing to commit a crime against humanity, Captain Sérgio was in 1993 awarded Brazilian Air Force Brigadier almost 30 years after the event.
      The justice that I name is in this minimum, its basic ethics.

      I wish people hear more often this word.

  • lamepostislame says:

    These devices are not uniquely used for censorship; they’re also used for network analysis to make networks function efficiently. There are plenty of legitimate uses for the hardware and software, and there is nothing unethical about creating them or selling them. All your analogies are basically flawed.

    Any sort of popular sovereignty is something of a safeguard against tyranny, but it is not, in and of itself, a guarantor of optimal, or even ethical outcomes. Athens was notorious for its outrageous, intransigent, and unethical government. Democratic legitimacy is not an indicator of ethical legitimacy in a country with a corrupt citizenry.

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