Wednesday, February 8, Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) is advising the European Parliament how to combat one of the most troubling problems human rights defenders face globally, European and American companies providing key surveillance technology to authoritarian governments, including Western nations, to aid repression, a five billion dollar industry. Spying on rights workers will be even easier with more drones in the skies over the United States if the bill Congress passed last week is signed into law by President Obama, as expected, especially since drones are his "weapon of choice."
"Ordinary citizens, journalists, human rights campaigners and democracy advocates have all been targeted, eviscerating privacy rights and chilling free speech," Trevor Timm of EFF said in a written statement Wednesday.
"There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities," Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told Newsroom America about the drone law Obama is about to sign.
The FAA projects that 30,000 drones could be in U.S. skies by 2020, according to Newsroom America. 2020 is the year scheduled for the Pentagon to have achieved its "Full Spectrum Dominance," control of land, air and sea as laid out in its blueprint, its report, "Joint Vision 2020."
In November, after numerous similar reports by self-identified targeted individuals, Deborah Dupré reported that drone aircraft, known for human rights violations of killing innocent children and other civilians in "terrorist" hideouts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, might be spotted in American neighborhoods soon, and some people might have already seen one of the 266 drones already employed for U.S. skies.
One innocent targeted individual had given his account to the Examiner of not only seeing a drone over New York, but also zapped with what seemed to be the drone's high-tech "less-than-lethal" directed energy weaponry.
Seattle Times reported in November that the FAA had issued 266 active testing permits for U.S. "civilian-drone applications" but hadn't permitted drones in U.S. airspace "on a wide scale" out of concern they didn't have adequate 'detect, sense and avoid' technology to prevent midair collisions.
Obama's drones kill hundreds of children daily in U.S. "imperial wars," according to Veterans For Peace spokespersons, Mike Ferner and Tarak Kauff.
Spying, not just passive act, includes targeting
As EFF and other rights groups campaign against Obama making drones legal in the United States, setting the stage to more easily target human rights defenders and journalists, EFF is also working to halt spy technology already used to harass, intimidate and even financially ruin rights workers.
"Ample evidence suggests information acquired through this spy gear appears has played a role in the harassment, threats, and even torture of journalists, human rights campaigners, and democracy activists," Timm stated.
EFF says that the technology’s reach into the lives of rights workers is very broad.
"Governments can listen in on cell phone calls, use voice recognition to scan mobile networks, read emails and text messages, censor web pages, track one’s every movement using GPS, and can even change email contents while en route to a recipient."
Some installed tools use similar malicious malware and spyware that online criminals use to steal credit card and banking information, according to EFF, also highlightingthe same technology can be used to target everyone.
"They can secretly turn on webcams built into personal laptops and microphones in unused cell phones. And all of this information is filtered and organized on such a massive scale that it can be used to spy on every person in an entire country," EFF said.
Dozens of companies in the U.S. and E.U are selling this technology, including to authoritarian regimes plus to Western governments.
"Critics say the market represents a new sort of arms trade supplying Western governments and repressive nations alike," the Wall Street Journal reported in November.
The surveillance equipment market has grown to a staggering $5 billion a year, according Jerry Lucas, president of TeleStrategies Inc, the man WSJ called "the show's operator."
As hundreds of other targeted individuals report to Deborah Dupré, Asma Hedi Nairi, a former Amnesty International youth coordinator, said that e-mails she and her friends exchanged "were replaced by messages ranging from random symbols to ads for rental cars, according to Bloomberg.
"Opponents of the regime toppled in January’s revolution received threatening messages such as 'you can run but you can’t hide,' while people with no role in politics found their correspondence snagged if it inadvertently included words flagged as critical of the government.
Ammar 404 damaged reputations by inserting pornographic images in work e-mails and routing intimate photos onto Facebook, Nairi, 23, said.
“Ammar 404 was seeing everything,” said Nairi in Tunis, studying for a master’s degree in criminal sciences.
Technology can be used to hack internet reports, such as number of views online journalists get on their website articles. When the Gawker system is used, a pay-per-view-based compensation system, such hacking cuts compensation that can result in self-censorship. The writer censors self, since it appears few people are reading the articles and there is little to no compensation.
A 2000 Pew poll showed about one-quarter of the local and national journalists said they purposely avoided newsworthy stories, while nearly as many acknowledge they softened the tone of stories to benefit interests of their news organizations. Four-in-ten (41%) admitted they engaging in either or both of these self-censorship practices.
In September, the EU Parliament passed a resolution proposed by EU Parliament's Ms. Schaake that called on European countries to regulate sales of this dangerous surveillance tools if they can be used in human rights violations. She has asked the European Commission to investigate sales by these companies to the governments of Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt.
Wednesday, EFF will testify at a workshop for the Committee of International Trade and Committee on Foreign Affairs, co-chaired by Ms. Schaake.
The following is part of what EFF we will say:
First, transparency is key. The mass surveillance industry as a whole has been notoriously secretive and that has, in turn, allowed it to proliferate without meaningful safeguards. But we know that just having this information in the public eye can, by itself, force change. Companies have pulled out of countries and created official human rights policies thanks to news reports. The world program director of I.S.S. Tatiana Lucas even complained that shining a spotlight on these practices “makes U.S. manufacturers gun shy about developing, and eventually exporting, anything that can remotely be used to support government surveillance.” We want to turn up the heat on these companies even more to be accountable for selling to authoritarian regimes.
We encourage the EU commission to act on Ms. Schaake’s request for an investigation into these companies and have them answer questions on the record. The EU Parliament should also consider disclosure requirements, requiring companies to publicize which governments they are selling to (either a full list or a limited list of based on troubling regimes or portions of regimes) and descriptions of the capabilities of their technologies, so an investigative body could follow the money trail to find out exactly whose equipment ends up where and how it is being used.
“Know Your Customer”
As EFF has highlighted before, legal terms defining harmful technology can often encompass basic technology, like web browsers and email servers.
"We can see this problem in the U.S., where overbroad regulations keep Syrian activists from accessing Google Chrome and Earth, Java, and or hosting services like Rackspace or SuperGreenHosting. It can also harm network security efforts.
Instead of focusing on the technology sold, EFF recommends that any formal or informal effort to address the problem of misuse of surveillance technologies look at government customers as the ultimate chokepoint.
"To that end, EFF has proposed a 'know your customer' framework, based on already existing legal frameworks in the U.S. that can be implemented without significant overhead cost to government or businesses.
If EFF has its way, companies selling surveillance technologies to governments or government providers would need to affirmatively investigate affirmatively and 'know their customer' before and during a sale.
EFF has detailed an extensive framework for such regulations including questions, definitions, and procedures for how to accomplish it.
"It would require companies to comprehensively review everything about a sale of surveillance technology from negotiations, discussions, background of the buyer, contractual specifications, technical support requests, to State Department and U.N human rights reports and the capability for abuse. Companies would refrain from participating in transactions where their investigations reveal either objective evidence or credible concerns that the technologies provided by the company will be used to facilitate human rights violations."
EFF’s full, detailed “know your customer” framework is online here.
"We hope the EU moves quickly on this problem, as recent reports show it is only getting worse. We also hope the U.S. Congress is listening because with U.S companies sell the same equipment, they are not only undermining own foreign policy in these countries, but destroying the human rights the State Department claims it supports around the world.
When the Guardian asked Lucas if he'd be comfortable knowing that regimes in North Korea and Zimbabwe were purchasing technology from companies he does business with, he said, “That’s just not my job to determine who’s a bad country and who’s a good country. That’s not our business.”
"By instituting EFF’s 'know our customer' standards, we can make it their business.