08 December 2011

Surveillance tools: Not just for spies now

A German company offers surveillance technology for use against political opponents.

In Russia, a startup company sells equipment to identify a single targeted voice in digital recordings of thousands of phone calls.

In China, a company boasts software that can crack the security on any Hotmail or Gmail account.

Specialized equipment and secret techniques that just a few years ago were the exclusive preserve of electronic government spy bureaus such as the U.S. National Security Agency are now available to the highest bidders from companies in dozens of countries.

Privacy International, an advocacy group based in London with which Mr. Soghoian works, and the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks last week published a database of more than 130 companies worldwide that market Internet monitoring, phone interception, computer logging or other surveillance technologies. The database is the fruit of a yearlong investigation during which Privacy International and WikiLeaks investigators infiltrated technology sales conferences and obtained promotional materials.

Based in 25 countries, the companies include well-established entities in the U.S., Israel and Europe and upstarts in countries such as Brazil,China, India and Russia.

India-based Paladion, which says it is “the fastest-growing information security company” in Asia, claims that its tools can track encrypted banking transactions and Gmail communication.

China Top Communications, a government-owned company based in Beijing, offers a package called Internet Watcher, which it claims can decrypt the secure Web connections used by Hotmail and Gmail email systems so users’ accounts can be monitored.

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