The Big Business of Being Big Brother

Vikileaks, the twitter phenomenon currently skewering Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews for his clumsy attempts to advocate on behalf of an internet surveillance bill, represents a negligible, if satisfying victory in the battle over privacy and regulation on the internet.

For the moment, the Conservative Party of Canada seems to be backing away from the legislation Toews was fronting for, but for how long? The reality is, in nations throughout the Western World, something similar to what the CPC hopes to implement is already in place. Worse, a variety of companies are and have been for sometime, innovating all kinds of new, high-tech surveillance tools, and these tools are being made available to all kinds of regimes and their repressive state institutions.

The best evidence of this shift, of which policy will most likely eventually follow, is found at ISS World. Never heard of it? Not surprising. It is a huge traveling cyber-arms convention, now generating as much as $5 billion annually, and growing by as much as 20% per year. And the attendees are a veritable who’s who in the surveillance biz, from innovators at the vanguard of monitoring to monster consumers, including the FBI, Interpol, and even more disturbingly, those desperate to protect authoritarian regimes, such as the national security agencies of Bahrain and Yemen, as well as the interior ministries of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Come for the cutting edge surveillance technology, stay for the fireside chats with soon to deplored but as of right now still accepted legitimate dictators of the world!

This has been going on for long time. It was at conventions like these where leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, or underlings working on their behalf, purchased the technologies they thought they might need to maintain their repressive regimes. Western Tech companies were only to happy to oblige.

Thankfully, there is a movement afoot to try and expose these dealings and illuminate the technologies being developed, bought and sold.  As Privacy International concludes:

“Until now, we had no idea what kinds of surveillance technologies were known and available to repressive regimes in developing countries. Human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists didn’t know what sort of precautions they should be taking to protect the security of their communications and the saftey of their sources – but with this database, we finally have concrete proof that some of the most dangerous governments have access to some of the most sophisticated equipment.”

It is, undoubtedly, an uphill battle.  The popularity of Vikileaks is only a fleeting success.  Privacy International’s database is a more concrete attempt to start bringing together all the information accumulated by civil society as part of a larger push to bring transparency to the darkest recesses of the state, democratic or not.

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