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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Thursday, June 1, 2006

Spyin' on the spies.

If there's that the world's wiretappers and spies like to keep more secret than what they do at work, it's what they do when they get together at a conference. Wired recently sent Thomas Greene off to see what he could find out about the ISS World conference — the annual gathering of companies that sell the high-tech paraphernalia that's used by corporations and repressive (and allegedly not-so-repressive) governments to eavesdrop on the rest of us. Not surprisingly, the conference doesn't allow journalists in the door. Despite that, Greene had no problem getting info while drinking at the hotel bar with conference attendees, or getting a group of friendly attendees to let him make a copy of the oh-so-secret conference CD-ROM — which, of course, contained nothing at all worth calling secret.

Oh, and Greene did manage to get by the door guards and into the conference.

In the bar that night, things got interesting. A group of men associated with the Pen-Link and Lincoln electronic surveillance systems came in. I exchanged small talk with them for a bit, then moved to their table. Although I had identified myself as a journalist, an enthusiastic reseller of the equipment decided to hold forth. We drank a great deal, so I won't name him.

"I'm not much concerned about wiretaps in America and Europe," I'd been saying to one of the Pen-Link engineers, "but I wonder if it bothers you to consider what this technology can do in the hands of repressive governments with no judicial oversight, no independent legislature."

Our man interrupted. "You need to educate yourself," he said with a sneer. "I mean, that's a classic journalist's question, but why are you hassling these guys? They're engineers. They make a product. They don't sell it. What the hell is it to them what anyone does with it?"

"Well, it's quite an issue," I said. "This is the equipment of totalitarianism, and the only things that can keep a population safe are decent law and proper oversight. I want to know what they think when they learn that China, or Syria, or Zimbabwe is getting their hands on it."

"You really need to educate yourself," he insisted. "Do you think this stuff doesn't happen in the West? Let me tell you something. I sell this equipment all over the world, especially in the Middle East. I deal with buyers from Qatar, and I get more concern about proper legal procedure from them than I get in the USA."

"Well, perhaps the Qataris are conscientious," I said, "and I'm prepared to take your word on that, but there are seriously oppressive governments out there itching to get hold of this stuff."

He sneered again. "Do you think for a minute that Bush would let legal issues stop him from doing surveillance? He's got to prevent a terrorist attack that everyone knows is coming. He'll do absolutely anything he thinks is going to work. And so would you. So why are you bothering these guys?"

"It's a valid question," I insisted. "This is powerful stuff. In the wrong hands, it could ruin political opponents; it could make the state's power impossible to challenge. The state would know basically everything. People would be getting rounded up for thought crimes."

"You're not listening," he said. "The NSA is using this stuff. The DEA, the Secret Service, the CIA. Are you kidding me? They don't answer to you. They do whatever the hell they want with it. Are you really that naïve? Now leave these guys alone; they make a product, that's all. It's nothing to them what happens afterward. You really need to educate yourself."

The whole article (which you'll find here) is fascinating reading. But if you only read part of it, go to the last page and read the bottom half for Greene's take on the entire surveillance 'industry.'

You can see the public web pages for the ISS World Conference here.

Via Boing Boing.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:15 PM | Get permalink




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