The WikiLeaks Spy Files are more than just about ’good Western countries’ exporting to ’bad developing world countries’. Western companies are also selling a vast range of mass surveillance equipment to Western intelligence agencies. In traditional spy stories, intelligence agencies like MI5 bug the phone of one or two people of interest. In the last ten years systems for indiscriminate, mass surveillance have become the norm. Intelligence companies such as VASTech secretly sell equipment to permanently record the phone calls of entire nations. Others record the location of every mobile phone in a city, down to 50 meters. Systems to infect every Facebook user, or smart-phone owner of an entire population group are on the intelligence market.
The Washington Post has an article focused on the Wiretappers’ Ball, a series of annual conventions yielding over $5 billion. The Post has this to say about this past October’s Ball in Bethesda, Md.: “On offer were products that allow users to track hundreds of cellphones at once, read e-mails by the tens of thousands, even get a computer to snap a picture of its owner and send the image to police — or anyone else who buys the software. One product uses phony updates for iTunes and other popular programs to take control of personal computers.”
We talked to Gary Lucas, who organizes the conferences, in August, who adds the main defense these companies use is something like this: “We don’t sell equipment to any country,” he said. “We provide a venue for vendors to present their products, do training, and the vendors make that decision who they want to sell to.”
Republican Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey is planning to introduce a bill in the House that would limit the export of these kind of technologies.
As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.
Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.
Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.