Privacy SOS

Wikileaks shines light on who is profiting off of the surveillance state, and how

Wikileaks has published new information about surveillance corporations and their many, spooky products. The Spy Files project now has a third installment, chock full of brochures and power-point presentations made by war and surveillance contractors and used to shop their wares to governments worldwide. The companies that sell these products promise that they will only be used for 'lawful interception,' but we know what that really means.

Here is a sampling of what Wikileaks has produced. It is by no means a complete rendering of all the surveillance products and companies profiled in the latest document dump.

  • FinFisher makes various products that allow government agents (and corporations?) to obtain access to everything on your computer, including your keystrokes. This malware can be installed either using physical intrusion (by inserting a thumb drive into your machine) or through social engineering (a fancy way of saying ‘someone tricks you into clicking on something you shouldn’t click on'). This is pretty scary stuff, in part because it means that your PGP encrypted emails may not be secure.
  • A British company called Aappro makes a “body-worn tactical surveillance” cell phone sniffer for “target identification and location.” The tool, known in the trade as an IMSI catcher, tricks cell phones into thinking it is a cell phone tower. Then it secretly identifies anyone in a given geographic area, and can even intercept communications. There are no statutes in the United States that explicitly address technologies like IMSI catchers, although we know that some of the bigger police departments like LAPD use them. Federal agencies like FBI and DHS also have the technology. A private investigator and security expert says that the NYPD used them to create lists of who attended Occupy Wall Street protests.
  • The US based BrightPlanet corporation makes tools that enable both government and corporations to “harvest[] high quality unstructured content from the Deep Web and then mak[e] it accessible for those who need the valuable, untapped resources that lie beneath the Surface Web for deep research and analysis.” One of its tools enables purchasers to track “Organizations or Companies” online: “Stay on top of any company, organization, or group – what they're doing, what they're saying and what's being said about them. Know the biases of all the players by deploying additional analytics to detect their sentiments, relationships, and associations.”
  • A Swiss company called NeoSoft AG uses IMSI technology to serve advertisements via text message to phones within a given geographic area. 
  • A US corporation called i2 that does business with police departments throughout the country, including in Massachusetts at the state fusion center, offers surveillance analysts products that help sort through and make sense of massive amounts of both public and private information, including social network analysis. “Quickly identify key individuals within target networks with Social Network Analysis,” the company boasts.
  • And finally, the spook conference to beat all spook conferences: Intelligence Support Systems, or ISS. Check out which US federal agencies and police departments attended the last conference in Washington DC. You can also see that a number of private corporations attended the event, including Comcast, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. Those don’t come as a huge surprise. But you know who else was there? Bank of America and Pfizer. 

Surveillance is big business. So what about our privacy? You can never be too careful. Do what you can to protect yourself online, and join our movement for law reform. The rights you save may be your own.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.