Feb. 22, 2012 at 6:57 PM ET
In an ongoing series profilingboth United States and European companies that sell spy tech to authoritarianregimes, the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls out companies whose customers included Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and former Tunisia president Ben Ali, among others.
"As long as these companies believe that itis okay to sell this technology to dictators, democracy activists, human rightsactivists, bloggers, and journalists around the world will continue tosuffer," the EFF writes. By calling out these companies, the advocacycontinues to urge the United States and European Union to adopt "know yourcustomer" standards, which would prevent Western companies in selling togovernments known for violating human rights.
Area SpA's overtime in Syria
During the height of Syria's violent crackdownon democratic protesters in March 2011, Area SpA employees were flown intoDamascus, the country's capitol, to finish a project that would allow thegovernment “to intercept, scan and catalog virtually every email that flowsthrough the country,” Bloomberg reported.
Following protests outside of Area SpA's Italianoffice, the company announced it would no longer honor the contract withthe Syrian government, stating that it was Area SpA was “against all forms ofrepression and disapproves of any use of technology for violating humanrights.” The equipment used in the government's escalating crackdown wasalready in place however. And as the EFF notes, y the time "Area SpAclaimed it would exit the country in November, the civilian death toll in Syriaalready stood at more than 3,000."
Trovicor and the Arab Spring trifecta
The EFF describes Germany-based Trovicor as"perhaps the most prolific of the mass surveillance companies, having soldspy technology to a dozen countries in the Middle East and NorthAfrica."
The former Nokia-Siemens subsidiary counts thegovernments of Iran, Bahrain and Tunisia as its customers, three countriesactive in the Arab Spring uprisings.
Nokia Siemens divested from Trovicor after itwas revealed the company sold spy tech to the Iranian government following thepost-election uprisings in 2009.
In Bahrain, Trovicor still maintains themonitoring centers it originally installed that helped surveil emails, textmessages and phone calls. "Almost two-dozen former political prisonersrecently testified to the England and Wales lawyers association that they werebeaten and subsequently interrogated while being shown transcripts of emailsand text messages," the EFF notes. "There have been at least 140documented allegations of torture in Bahrain in the past last year."
Trovicor is also among the companies that soldspy tech to former president Ben Ali, and the EFF calls out Bloomberg's reporton Trovicor’s dangerous capabilities:
[Trovicor’s] toolboxallows more than the interception of phone calls, e-mails, text messages andVoice Over Internet Protocol calls such as those made using Skype. Someproducts can also secretly activate laptop webcams or microphones on mobiledevices. They can change the contents of written communications inmid-transmission, use voice recognition to scan phone networks, and pinpointpeople’s locations through their mobile phones. The monitoring systems can scancommunications for key words or recognize voices and then feed the data andrecordings to operators at government agencies.
In the coming weeks, the EFF will continue toprofile the dozens of companies in the U.S. and the European Union that supplyequipment to countries known for human rights violations, promising to continueuntil "Congress and the EU countries act to prevent more of this dangeroustechnology from falling into the wrong hands."