In a longread, the Washington Post explores how Western surveillance technology that listens in on cell phone calls, monitors Internet activity, takes pictures of people while they use their computers and otherwise tracks people while it hacks their digital devices, ends up in the hands of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Via the Washington Post:
Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur Jerry Lucas hosted his first trade show for makers of surveillance gear at the McLean Hilton in May 2002. Thirty-five people attended.
Nine years later, Lucas holds five events annually across the world, drawing hundreds of vendors and thousands of potential buyers for an industry that he estimates sells $5 billion of the latest tracking, monitoring and eavesdropping technology each year. Along the way these events have earned an evocative nickname: The Wiretappers’ Ball.
The products of what Lucas calls the “lawful intercept” industry are developed mainly in Western nations such as the United States but are sold throughout the world with few restrictions. This burgeoning trade has alarmed human rights activists and privacy advocates, who call for greater regulation because the technology has ended up in the hands of repressive governments such as those of Syria, Iran and China…
…But the overwhelming U.S. government response has been to engage in the event not as a potential regulator, but as a customer.
The list of attendees for this year’s U.S. Wiretappers’ Ball, held in October at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, included more than 20 federal agencies, Lucas said. Representatives of 43 countries also were there, he said, as were many people from state and local law enforcement agencies. Journalists and members of the public were excluded.