Spy Software Up for Grabs?

By Ryan Nelson, Opinion Columnist

The Daily O'Collegian, January 8, 2012

Imagine living in a world where corporations and intelligence firms created software that can intercept communications of entire populations and demographics. Imagine a world where this software was sold by intelligence contractors to governments around the world, including brutal authoritarian dictatorships. Imagine these contractors making billions of dollars in the process.

There's no need to pretend that this world exists, you're living in it.

Last month, Wikileaks published a collection of documents called the "Spy Files" which details just how extensive and pervasive the global surveillance industry has become over the past decade. U.S. corporations such as Blue Coat sell software to oppressive countries like China and Iran to censor, track down, and crush dissent. As a longtime blogger on international affairs, I've been told stories of political bloggers in Iran who have been chopped up into little pieces and mailed back to their families in boxes. I know it's a horrible image to picture in your head, but these atrocities are made possible by corporate entities such as Blue Coat and many like them.

This software isn't only used by authoritarian regimes abroad; they are used here in the U.S., as well. Commercial interests are responsible for the software used in Predator drones that provide data for the CIA. These drones have recently been authorized to be used by law enforcement in the U.S. to gather intelligence.

Intelligence Integration System Inc. created software called Geospatial Toolkit to instantly identify your location and identity based on your phone signal and voice print. It's called "location-based analytics", and it was sold to the CIA and also applied to various drone operations abroad in extrajudicial assassinations. With the PATRIOT Act still in law, one can only assume the worst as to how private our private lives really are and how involved our own government is in it.

With the National Defense Authorization Act now signed into law that authorizes the indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial, this global surveillance industry becomes even more dangerous in the United States and creates more room for power to be abused.

Private companies don't just sell spying software to the U.S. It's going to go to whoever is the highest bidder, as well. Whether it is the president of Iran or the Saudi royal family, profit is profit and that bottom line is what matters in the end. Multinational surveillance corporations don't have morals or ethics because they can't afford it.

This elusive industry isn't only limited to the secret meetings of intelligence agencies or the backrooms of dictator palaces; it has also infiltrated universities around the country.

The National Security Agency has been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into grants for research funding in academics for at least the past five years. They don't try very hard in hiding it either. In fact, many researchers and academics take pride in the fact that they are being funded by the NSA. With the dangerously common "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists" mentality still very present in today's political discourse, the NSA doesn't worry too much about the public outrage as to exactly what they are investing their money in; investments into joyful expenditures such as analysis of intercepted communications, pattern detection and data mining.

Students do all the hard work in researching hardware and software that will be used in the future to spy on American citizens and kill countless civilians abroad, all with our tax dollars. You're welcome NSA.

One of the main reasons the Nazis were so effective and organized when it came to the concentration and death camps was because of computers created and given to them by a U.S. company called IBM. IBM customized these computers specifically for the death camps. Technology is not neutral when the intent of its design is specifically for undermining the freedoms and rights of citizens.

If you could go back in time and stop IBM, would you? What if you didn't have to? These things are being done right now. Western companies are selling technologies to regimes that have no problem in slaughtering their own people to preserve their power, and indeed they have; mostly with weapons sold by U.S. arms traders and manufacturers. Thank you Lockheed Martin.

These intelligence and surveillance firms are able to do what they do because the public is not informed enough to make them accountable for the suffering and death they have caused in the pursuit of profit and at the expense of privacy and freedom from the state. By talking about these issues and facts brought to light by hackers and whistleblowers around the world and entering them into the public discourse, we will make it harder for these firms to market their oppressive technologies that result in the murders on innocent people.

Go ahead and share this on Facebook and Twitter. Maybe the people who are logging your information will have a sudden change of heart and blow the whistle on the company they work for. Like Wikileaks said in a Tweet the other day, "Programmers and system admins control every intelligence agency and bank. What happens when they awake and unite?"


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