The private surveillance industry is big business. With the exception of the United States, the export of surveillance equipment and related technologies is mostly unregulated. According to one non-profit that polices these transactions, the industry is “downright scary” and they went to great pains to document it.
A non-profit called Privacy International set out to document this industry and what I found scary was how much they were able to piece together from public sources. Depending on your view of things, it is easier further collateral damage from the Wikileaks and Snowden fiascos or just par for the course in this new and ever-changing electronic landscape. Maybe it is a little of both.
As is usual with these groups, Privacy International appears to have an anti-US, anti-Western, anti-capitalist agenda. Technology must be bad. Western governments, that they go out of their way to single out, bad. Yet, these are usually the same type of folks that criticize economic sanctions on repressive regimes such as Iran or Cuba, among many others. And why are these folks always so angry?
“There is a culture of impunity permeating across the private surveillance market, given that there are no strict export controls on the sale of this technology, as there are on the sale of conventional weapons,” said Matthew Rice, research consultant with Privacy International.
Culture of impunity? I guess hyperbole sells.
While it may make sense to control the export and distribution to certain governments and persons, in the end, the problem is not the technology at all. People are the issue. Just as gun control laws do absolutely nothing to stem gun violence, export controls in this arena will have a very limited effect on dealing with the privacy and genuine human rights concerns that these groups say they’d like to protect.
Every now and then a client will ask me if they can export an item that can be used in surveillance of some sort. Most of the time, the export is not a problem. There is a lot that is regulated, but quite a lot that is not. Should it be? As with everything public policy arena, balance and cool heads are needed. One thing is certain, the U.S., and possibly the UK and few others, are just about the only nations that really care about policing this issue.
Privacy International’s Surveillance Industry Index is an interesting collection of data, however, it also distorts the industry and creates a boogeyman where there need not be one. The zeitgeist on this issue is too slanted to the conspiracy arena, where balance is needed. I guess Privacy International need to sell clicks and page views to increase readership and donors. Or it may just have an ulterior motive. With all these caveats, you can follow this link to view the Surveillance Industry Index.