The British company BAE Systems has been selling mass surveillance software called Evident across the Middle East, the findings are the result of a year-long investigation by BBC Arabic and the Danish newspaper Dagbladet. The surveillance software was acquired after the purchase of Danish company ETI in 2011, and experts believe it was used by totalitarian governments to persecute opponents and activists.
“You’d be able to intercept any internet traffic,” a former employee told the BBC. “If you wanted to do a whole country, you could. You could pin-point people’s locations based on cellular data. You could follow people around. They were quite far ahead with voice recognition. They were capable of decrypting stuff as well.”
Journalists reported that one of the customers for the Evident software before the ETI acquisition was the Tunisian government, and according to a former Tunisian intelligence official, the surveillance software was used to track down President’s opponents.
“ETI installed it and engineers came for training sessions,” he explained. “[It] works with keywords. You put in an opponent’s name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user.”
Fearing a new Arab Spring, several Middle Eastern governments started internet surveillance to identify and persecute dissents, it was a great business opportunity for Western companies like BAE.
BAE Systems and other firms sustain they are committed to operating ethically and responsibly, respecting laws on international exports to overseas governments.
Freedom of information requests from the BBC and the Denmark newspaper Dagbladet Information demonstrate BAE sold systems to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, and Algeria.
According to dissidents, the mass surveillance systems made their dirty job.
“I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said more than 90 per cent of the most active campaigners in 2011 have now vanished,” Yahya Assiri, a former Saudi air force officer now in exile, told El Reg.
Evident was installed by numerous government organizations and the company improved it by adding new decryption add-ons.
The British government expressed concern that the software misuse, it cannot be excluded that Evident could be also used against the Western target.
“We would refuse a licence to export this cryptanalysis software from the UK because of Criteria 5 (national security) concerns,” the British export authority told its Danish counterparts in an email over the sale of Evident to the UAE. The Danes approved the sale anyway.
The consequences of such sales could come back to haunt the West, according to Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake. She warns that the costs could be very heavy indeed.
“Each and every case where someone is silenced or ends up in prison with the help of EU-made technologies I think is unacceptable,” said Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake.
“I think the fact that these companies are commercial players, developing these highly sophisticated technologies that could have a deep impact on our national security, on people’s lives, requires us to look again at what kind of restrictions may be needed, what kind of transparency and accountability is needed in this market before it turns against our own interest and our own principles.”
(Security Affairs – BAE, mass surveillance software Evident)