Bugged planet

New Wikileaks release on the ‘bugged planet’ – the $5-billion mass surveillance industry selling telecoms and internet monitoring technology.

To date, we have documented a total of 133 of these surveillance weapons dealers, including 36 in the United States, 18 in the United Kingdom, 15 in Germany, 11 in Israel and eight in Italy. As with “traditional” arms dealers, most of them are located in rich and democratic countries. 12 of the 26 countries documented are also part of the European Union, which accounts for 62 of these companies.

87 sell tools, systems and software for monitoring the Internet, 62 for telephone surveillance, while 20 are for spying on SMS messages. 23 are involved in speech recognition, and 14 with GPS geolocalisation. Seven of the companies are also involved in the area of “cyber-war offensives”, selling Trojans, rootkits and other backdoors used to take control of computers remotely and without the knowledge of their users. These spy systems are distinct from those used by ordinary hackers in that they could not be identified by the “majority” of antivirus systems and other computer security solutions.

In Western democracies, the marketing and use of these systems of surveillance and interception of telecommunications is strictly controlled. There is nothing, however, to prevent their sale to countries with weaker restrictions, including to dictatorships. Although these tools are designed for espionage, they are not considered weapons. As such their exportation is controlled by national, European or international laws. Whether or not this business is moral, as things stand it is completely legal.


Spyfiles.org has an interactive graphic showing where these companies are located. It’s a little misleading; it implies these countries are where the technology is used too. Nonetheless worth a look.

New Delhi journalist Sagarika Ghose live-tweeted Assange’s video speech at the HTC Summit on 3rd December. Her take on his key points:

We are entering an age of transparency. The information of ordinary citizens is being accessed and monitored by secretive corporations. Elites are trying to hide information but the data of the common man is more openly available than ever to big companies. Public data, emails etc are being intercepted regularly. We are heading for bulk surveillance of the public to benefit transnational security elites.

A question to Assange: isn’t it better to give up some liberty and privacy in order to be safe?

His response: Giving up personal data to organisations is not part of the democratic covenant. Organisations should be accountable

Sagarika Ghose’s overall take on the presentation was that “Assange either paranoid and delusional or chillingly prophetic..”

However Indy Johar crucially recognises that this is not just a story about government or military surveillance. He tweeted:

The private platform web Facebook twitter etc has accelerated the asymmetry of personal data, open for the 99% & deep analytics for the 1%. [1]
It’s not the openness of our data that is the issue but the hidden predictive analytics, analysis & surveillance undertaken by hidden corps [2]

How exactly can we parse the differences between the Iranian police monitoring social media to crack down on dissidents… the UK police monitoring social media as part of their policing of protests… Vodafone monitoring social media to get advance warning of UK Uncut protests… and Vodafone monitoring social media to better understand their audience and increase sales?

Different ends, to be sure. But what does it mean that the same methods can be used for each?

For each government / corporation, the overarching aim is the same: knowledge = power. Through greater knowledge, the better they believe can control the actions of their consumer/citizenry.

And in each, the consumer/citizen social media user stands in the same relationship to power: asymmetric.

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