The global push for surveillance, particularly by governments and law enforcement agencies, has spawned an entire 'industry', indicate documents released recently by Wikileaks. India too is setting up surveillance infrastructure called the Centralised Monitoring System.
Wikileaks has recently come out with more data that not only offers insights into the bewilderingly wide range of hardware and software that is now available globally for comprehensive online surveillance, but also points to the visit to India in July of the owner of one of the companies that sells such products.
Wikileaks, an organisation that publishes secret information, has in recent years been releasing data about companies that sell various kinds of surveillance products. The release of the brochures, presentations and other kinds of documents of hundreds of such companies on September 4, comes at a time when media in the West continue to expose the scale and depth of the surveillance operations of America's National Security Agency (NSA). The latest reports point to the kind of capability NSA had acquired to tap into communication that is encrypted (converted into a form that is considered undecipherable, and is resorted to for purposes of secrecy or confidentiality).
"Internet spying technologies now being sold on the intelligence market include detecting encrypted and obfuscated internet usage such as Skype, BitTorrent, VPN, SSH and SSL. The documents reveal how contractors work with intelligence and policing agencies to obtain decryption keys," said a Wikileaks release.
"These documents reveal how, as the intelligence world has privatised, US, EU and developing world intelligence agencies have rushed into spending millions on next-generation mass surveillance technology to target communities, groups and whole populations," it said.
Along with the documents Wikileaks had also released information from what it calls its Counter Intelligence Unit, claiming to provide information about 'key players of the surveillance industry'. It is one of these records offering phone-based location details of the owner of a UK-based tracking and surveillance company that suggests that he had been to India in July this year.
Though many of the documents date back to two years or so, what they show is that just about any form of electronic communication over the Internet can be intercepted, monitored, stored and analysed on a massive scale.
The kind of common technologies and methods used for surveillance and interception, based on a random sampling of the the information available in the brochures, include:
Packet monitoring: Data flows in units called 'packets' . Voice, cellular, email and web data is filtered and collected for analysis. A layer of additional data called metadata that helps to contextualise the information flow can be used for narrowing down the results for analysis. One company's brochure stated that its equipment could be used to monitor voice calls, MMS, SMS, FAX, VolP calls, text chat, web mails ( Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.), FTP, SMTP and POP3 (protocols used for accessing mail), BlackBerry and so on. The brochures of many other companies also make similar statements.
Mobile data interception: Calls are monitored on different kinds of telecommunications networks and siphoned off for scrutiny. Complete sessions can be tracked. Depending on the scale of the equipment thousands of calls can be monitored at a time. Some companies offer equipment that can track both voice and data. "The days of the ruler and marker are gone. While it is impossible to analyze a printed listing of some 100,000 phone calls, this becomes a mere formality when appropriate computer applications are on hand," said a company brochure.
Location Tracking: Equipment that is used to track the location and movement of users of mobile phones. Can be done live.
Data retention: Automating the storage of large volumes of surveillance data.
Trojans: Malicious computer programmes that are surreptitiously installed in a computer or mobile phone to extract information from and keep track of system usage. The cache includes brochures of a particular company that has been in the news for selling kits to implant trojans.
Speech recognition: Using unique voice patterns to keep track of and monitor telephone calls being made or calls already recorded.
Image recognition and video surveillance: Used to keep track of targeted persons or objects in zones monitored by video surveillance systems.
Satellite monitoring: Tracking and intercepting information flow over satellite channels.
And which organisations are interested in such surveillance equipment? The brochure of the organisers of a noted global surveillance trade show states that the lineup for its 2012 event included law enforcement organisations, domestic security agencies, the defence sector and public safety organisations, apart from telecom operators and private organisations. The list of Indian attendees of last year's show included police officials, Central government officials and those from the Intelligence wing, defence sector, telecom and research organisations.