Yesterday marked the launch of Wikileaks’ newest project, the Spyfiles, following an announcement from Julian Assange while speaking on a panel at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at the City University of London. Addressing the audience, Assange casually dropped the bomb that a new batch of files uncover the “international mass-surveillance industry.” From the conference:
In what sounds like the most dystopian novel I’ve ever read, Wikileaks explained the extent of the surveillance operation in a release:
International surveillance companies are based in the more technologically sophisticated countries, and they sell their technology on to every country of the world. This industry is, in practice, unregulated. Intelligence agencies, military forces and police authorities are able to silently, and on mass, and secretly intercept calls and take over computers without the help or knowledge of the telecommunication providers. Users’ physical location can be tracked if they are carrying a mobile phone, even if it is only on stand by.
But the WikiLeaks Spy Files are more than just about ’good Western countries’ exporting to ’bad developing world countries’. Western companies are also selling a vast range of mass surveillance equipment to Western intelligence agencies. In traditional spy stories, intelligence agencies like MI5 bug the phone of one or two people of interest. In the last ten years systems for indiscriminate, mass surveillance have become the norm. Intelligence companies such as VASTech secretly sell equipment to permanently record the phone calls of entire nations. Others record the location of every mobile phone in a city, down to 50 meters. Systems to infect every Facebook user, or smart-phone owner of an entire population group are on the intelligence market.
The Wikileaks release also explains that citizens involved in overthrowing their respective dictators during the Arab Spring this year discovered listening rooms “where devices from Gamma corporation of the UK, Amesys of France, VASTech of South Africa and ZTE Corp of China monitored their every move online and on the phone.” Further, the Spyfiles announcement details how surveillance entities in the U.S., Italy and France have manufactured viruses to infiltrate private computers and smart phones – they’re looking at you, iPhone, Blackberry, and Gmail users – in order to essentially hijack the device and record its every movement.
Wikileaks cohort OWNI have taken the Spyfiles release and created a remarkably fascinating – and outright terrifying – interactive map to help make sense of this new information to the visually-inclined. Go ahead and play around with it and become scared.
Not included in the video above is an extended account of how intelligence surveillance isn’t only limited to certain regions of the world:
But software users in the West are not safe either. Assange and other members of the panel told reporters how Western intelligence services used electronic devices to monitor the activities of its citizens. In Britain MI5 apparently used specialized voice recognition software implanted into cell phones that could make out who was speaking to whom. Other intelligence agencies had the ability to figure out where exactly the user was located, what they were typing and what they looked like. One of the programs allowed agencies to take photos of unsuspecting victims by using cameras implanted into their phones.
One intrepid tweeter already seems to have corroborated Wikipedia’s claim:
More mysterious is that Wikileaks seems to be experiencing some accessibility issues with their website right now following the release of the Spyfiles:
Not to be crass about what has been a pretty sobering article up to this point, but does this mean that I should hurry up and pay my parking tickets now or is it really just too late to even worry about that?