Kudos to investigators at Al Jazeera who went undercover, approaching three companies on behalf of the governments of Iran and South Sudan – and found it all too easy to buy surveillance technology that could be used to spy on the countries’ citizens.
Of course, shipping surveillance and spying equipment to authoritarian regimes breaks international sanctions, as the devices could be used to spy upon activists, political rivals and dissidents.. and could potentially lead to them being interrogated, tortured or even killed.
And if it wasn’t troubling enough that the companies seemed prepared to supply the likes of South Sudan and Iran with such technology – or at least find a way to waltz past red tape and suggest ways in which the surveillance equipment could be brought to banned countries – then it’s even more troubling that one of the companies approached simply didn’t care who the eventual customer might be.
In short, those selling the spying equipment at that particular Chinese-based firm didn’t care if it ended up in the hands of a dictatorship, organised criminal gang or terrorists.
And why should they care? After all, they’re looking potentially at orders totalling millions of dollars. All they have to worry about is ensuring that the hardware they provide doesn’t carry their logo, and that any documentation fails to mention that they were the manufacturers. And, if they need to sneak it past awkward government officials, maybe they can just fill in the forms to claim that the suitcase-sized box of tricks they’re selling is a Wi-Fi router rather than an IMSI catcher or sophisticated IP intercept system.
Of course, when faced with the evidence that Al Jazeera collected the firms concerned disassociated themselves with what was said on camera, and said that they only worked within the law.
Hmm.. I wonder.
Make sure to watch the Al Jazeera report, and for more discussion check out the latest episode of the “Smashing Security” podcast: