Scandal gripped the nation of Peru in 2015 when it was discovered that then vice-president and some congressmen were victims of domestic intelligence agency spying. Journalistic investigations learned how the Peruvian intelligence agency had collected data on hundreds of prominent citizens. Public outrage led to congressional censure and the prompt ousting of Peruvian Prime Minister Ana Jara for allegedly spying on political opponents. She had served for less than one year. Despite the public outrage and political rebuke the nation’s spy agency has pushed forward with a $22 million program to increase the government’s surveillance capabilities.
The discussion of what defines the appropriate use of surveillance technology by citizens and state agencies is still a nascent one. Within the representative democracies of the world, the argument is often framed as a trade-off between liberty and security with those of a certain political bent preferring one to the other and vice versa. Politics often enforces simplicity, but the future that the rapid proliferation of surveillance technologies is creating is increasingly complex. Increasing surveillance and cybersecurity concerns worldwide have forced the issues of privacy, law-enforcement, due-process and human rights into the national conversation.
Tolerance for the use of these kinds of technologies still varies widely and will certainly be debated for the foreseeable future. Since the use of these technologies is unlikely to disappear from either government or private use, it’s important to openly debate these issues to aid ourselves and future generations in protecting our liberties and defining the boundaries of law. This is especially true for those of us living in countries where it remains safe to debate issues concerning the rights of citizens and the application of state-power.
NSA snooping, domestic terror attacks and growing concerns over the prevalence of terrorism in Europe and the middle-east keep the issues surrounding surveillance and law-enforcement near the forefront of American concern. Advanced surveillance technologies that can gather large amounts of data, observe people’s emails and voiced phone conversations, trace locations etc., have come on so fast in the last decade that the idea is still seen by many as primarily a first-world concern. However, the nations of the developing world may in fact be closer to the front lines of the battle when it comes to dealing with the potential abuses of state surveillance. Often it’s the citizens of these nations that are made to face the pointy-end of the proverbial spear.
Where is the Tech?
Tech mammoths Verint Systems and Nice Systems hail from nations with robust intelligence services, including the US, Israel, Great Britain and Germany. Surveillance technologies have in large part been made more profitable and prolific through partnership with government agencies for the purpose of advancing defense and intelligence applications.
Verint sells itself as the global leader in what it calls actionable intelligence solutions. These technologies are aimed at aiding client organizations with software and service in customer engagement optimization and improving overall business processes through workforce optimization and operational cost management. They are also known for security intelligence, fraud prevention, training and compliance. Verint is an industry leader in the realm of cyber intelligence, with clients in the fields of law enforcement, national security and intelligence agencies. Their technologies are routinely used by such organizations to help investigate and prevent cybercrime, as well as disrupt terror and drug and human trafficking networks.
Verint boasts the use of its services, ranging widely from voice analysis software to IP surveillance systems, by over 10,000 organizations in 180 countries. Unfortunately some of those countries utilizing Verint’s commercially-available technologies aren’t the havens of freedom and human rights that privacy and human rights advocates would desire. Nearly half of Verint’s business dealings surrounding its surveillance services take place in the developing world. For example, Peru’s $22 million spying arsenal upgrade is comprised mainly of commercially-available products supplied by Verint Systems.
Apart from politically ostracized nations like Syria and North Korea which are officially barred, surveillance tools of these types, capable of monitoring thousands of individual phone calls, texts and emails are easily available to most governments. Even governments with dubious human rights records like Peru’s, where former President Fujimori, his intelligence advisor Vladimir Montesinos, 3 army generals and members of the administration’s secret police Grupo Colina are all serving 15-25 year sentences for killings and disappearances committed in the early 1990’s.
Privacy International has also reported the nations of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have been purchasing these commercial surveillance technologies, and services from companies like Verint and Nice since the early 2000’s. Uzbek dissidents report that this kind of surveillance equipment has been used by intelligence agencies to locate and arrest journalists and citizens who discuss what the state considers sensitive information by phone or email.
Even taking the precaution of publishing under pseudonym and creating new email accounts for every article he sent, didn’t help accused subversive Kudrat Rasulov avoid an 8-year sentence in an Uzbek prison for the crime of blogging critically about his nation’s leadership. Tulkin Karayev, an Uzbek dissident living in Sweden describes the situation in his home country as one where “The authorities’ main weapon is people’s fear. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, all this is banned.”
With multi-billion dollar market-cap companies supplying the world’s legitimate market with surveillance technologies and a thriving black market able to fill the demand from less scrupulous players, the future we might all have to deal with appears to be an environment of general proliferation. Technology presses on at a pace that’s difficult for the law to keep up with, and as we enjoy or endure this transitional phase it’s important to remember that the decisions that we make are certain to have some effect on future generations, and not just in our own country. Click here to find out how to become a leader in the cybersecurity world and become a voice for protecting freedom of expression.
Author: Jeffrey Sabranek