Privacy International has long been one of the driving forces behind the global efforts to ensure the internet remains open and free for all. They have now launched a new database of more than 500 companies which are involved in the online security industry, in an attempt to shed some light on an industry that operates very much in the shadows.
The database is known as the Surveillance Industry Index (SII) and includes a wide range of searchable details about the companies it contains including their name, location, type of products, the trade shows they attend, and the type of surveillance work they are involved in.
It also includes links to more than 1,500 company brochures and has details of more than 600 known exports from data which was already in the public domain.
Of those companies included, 122 are located in the USA, with 104 in the UK, and 40 each in France in Germany. The overwhelming majority are based in countries with a thriving arms industry.
The database has also attempted to identify where in the world different company’s products can be identified, with particular attention being drawn to those that have sold to oppressive and dictatorial regimes around the world.
The database has been compiled by the organisations own researchers along with journalists and other activists. Edin Omanovic, a research officer at Privacy International explained to the tech website Motherboard that the idea of the database is to allow researchers, journalists, and activists to gain a better understanding of how the industry works, what products are on the market, and who is doing business with whom.
Its release was accompanied by a report which provides a fascinating insight into the development of the industry, as well as painting a particularly vivid picture of where it is at today. For those who care about online privacy in any way, it makes for pretty grim reading.
It concludes that unless greater transparency and export restrictions are used to bring the industry to heel, the trade in surveillance technologies is only likely to grow in the months and years ahead. The demand for such products is of course fueled by the growing paranoia about the risks of terrorist’s attacks.
The report argues that if this growth continues unchecked, the industry will continue to facilitate human rights abuses, to undermine online privacy globally, and also contribute real tangible risks to international security.
In the ongoing public debate around the globe of privacy vs. security, this database and the accompanying report make a valuable contribution. As Privacy International’s Edin Omanovic says “Understanding the role of the surveillance industry, and how these technologies are traded and used across the world, is crucial to not only understanding this debate but also fostering accountability and the development of comprehensive safeguards and effective policy.”
For individual users, it will be the size of the industry that will shock them the most. Many people are aware of the risks of online surveillance, but few are aware of the sheer scale of the industry, and the range of products and different technologies that are out there.
In boosting awareness of the industry, Privacy International are also likely to encourage increasing numbers of users to take steps to protect their own privacy online through VPNs and other such technologies. No doubt, this is a consequence of which they would thoroughly approve.