Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that government entities around the globe are buying the latest tracking technology systems. According to the Post, dozens of countries have bought or leased such systems in recent years. Since cellular networks must keep detailed, up to the minute records on the locations of their customers to be able to deliver calls and other services, using surreptitious surveillance systems to collect that data becomes viable for tracking movements and other data. It seems that, as long as said government agency can expend the money, systems are readily available to be purchased.
This from the Washington Post story:
At The Post’s request, telecommunications security researcher Tobias Engel used the techniques described by the marketing documents to determine the location of a Post employee who used an AT&T phone and consented to the tracking. Based only on her phone number, Engel found the Post employee’s location, in downtown Washington, to within a city block — a typical level of precision when such systems are used in urban areas.
Experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation with relative ease and precision. Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, a London based activist group that tracks the abuse of surveillance technology said, “Any tin-pot dictator with enough money to buy the system could spy on people anywhere in the world. This is a huge problem.”
Part of the problem is national versus international laws and governing bodies. Though it is illegal in many countries to track people without their consent or a court order, no such international laws exist and there is no global governing boy with the authority to enforce such prevention. And no one is clear on which governments have bought these systems.
Also, though the United States restricts the export of certain surveillance technologies, many of the suppliers of said technologies are based overseas, functionally removing any practical limits on their sale or use. So, if a government, criminal gang or a nation under sanctions has the funds, there is nothing to stop them from purchasing and using these systems.
We can all expect that this will become an increasingly important issue around the world. As technology keeps improving, surreptitious surveillance will keep getting easier. It’s something for all of us to think about.