Spies like us: How you can become like the NSA

In the 1985 comedy classic Spies Like Us, loose cannons Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase are given all the weapons and technology given top secret spies.


They embark on a hair-brained spy mission to Russia with hilarious consequences.


But times have changed and spying is not all about cool watches and James Bond gadgets anymore.


And if you thought that NSA-style cyber-snooping, data-logging, phone-hacking and camera-stalking technology can’t get into the hands of loose cannons – think again.


The global mass surveillance industry is worth about 14 billion dollars. Not bad for an industry that has sprung up in the past few decades.


Watchdog group Privacy International spent the last four years trudging around trade shows and private conventions from Dubai to Prague, compiling an index of exactly what’s on offer from these covert firms if you know where to look.


And it’s not just data capturing vehicles, biometric cameras and mobile phone trackers – it’s a lot scarier than that.


Surveillance corporations are selling some of the most powerful, invasive, and dangerous technologies. And it’s all perfectly legal.


Systems that are keeping pace with the capabilities of the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ.


About 338 companies across 36 countries are offering a total of 97 different technologies. And their selling them to whoever has the cash.


One Dubai-based firm called Advanced Middle East Systems taps information from fibre-optic cables carrying internet traffic.


Their products can record billions of real time calls, text, billing data, emails, conversations, webmail, chat and social data.


Attaching probes to internet cables the company says that “no co-operation with the providers is required,”


The index even lists three Australia-based companies:


Geonautics who do covert technical surveillance systems, FFT Secure link which monitors fibre optic cables, and Harris Technologies, whose not so subtle brochure shows off their range of concealed cameras.


Some say this kind of tech, while not illegal, is moving faster than the law.


The UK is leading a clampdown on tech that may be used by criminals to conduct espionage.


So what if these systems fall into the wrong hands?


Well, in all likelihood, it already has.


According to Privacy International, some of the firms on the list maintain relationships with the repressive regimes they sell to. Servicing their systems and providing 24/7 tech support for dictators and their cronies.


They don’t specify which firms work with which regimes and there’s no suggestion that any Australian firms are doing it.


Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi was known to use off-the-shelf surveillance equipment to clamp down on opposition.


We live in a time where even our own government has excused cyber privacy breaches by saying that everyone does it.


It’s not just so-called oppressive regimes. It’s the goodies, the baddies and everyone in between. Anyone who knows where to look and has the cash to pay for it can become their own NSA.


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