WikiLeaks launched a new spinoff website called “Spy Files” on Thursday that will publish documents about surveillance and privacy violations worldwide.
The site has a page displaying a map of the world indicating where various violations are occurring, and it lists companies involved in monitoring and surveillance.
At press time, there were 287 files on the page.
The launch coincides with increased concerns about surveillance triggered by recent allegations that software company Carrier IQ was providing applications to mobile device manufacturers and carriers that logged everything done on a user’s smartphone.
Those concerns were further exacerbated by news Thursday that the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011, which would exonerate private companies from blame for sharing customer data with the government, is being considered in Congress.
Is WikiLeaks justified in launching this new Spy Files site? Or is it making a last-ditch attempt to get publicity and get some money into its nearly empty coffers?
What Spy Files Tells Us
The blurb on the Spy Files landing page states that mass interception of communications is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries.
WikiLeaks claims to have a database of hundreds of documents from up to 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry.
It’s working with Bugged Planet, Privacy International and media organizations from six countries — ARD in Germany, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, The Hindu in India, Italy’s L’Espresso, France’s OWNI and The Washington Post.
WikiLeaks plans to release more documents in the future.
WikiLeaks says surveillance companies such as SS8 in the U.S., Italy’s Hacking Team, and France’s Vupen create Trojans that hijack individual computers and mobile phones and record their every use, movement and even what’s going on around them, while companies such as the Czech Republic’s Phoenexia collaborate with the military to create speech analysis tools that identify individuals by gender, age and stress levels and track them based on voiceprints.
Some Companies Involved
One of the names named is HP, whose brochure titled “HP Investigation Solutions” was listed.
A presentation titled “New Solutions for massive monitoring” from Thales and one titled “Deploying Media Probes in Evolving VoIP Networks” from Newport Networks are among the other documents listed on Spy Files.
“HP is a leader in providing converged communications solutions that support global law enforcement efforts to fight terrorism and other serious crimes,” company spokesperson Ethan Bauley told TechNewsWorld.
“We do not design our products to be used to violate human rights, and we do not knowingly sell our products for such purposes,” Bauley added.
Fear and Loathing or Business as Usual?
Perhaps concerns about our moving increasingly to a surveillance-saturated world where everyone is under watch all the time are overblown.
“It was nice of [WikiLeaks] to create a central catalog of surveillance materials and methods, but there is no larger story that was not already well known,” Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software, told TechNewsWorld.
“The facts of life are that governments and private parties have been able to intercept and track consumer security-level devices since the beginning,” Lieberman added.
There are “very good reasons” for governments to have surveillance programs in place, but people are “now being surveilled by a much broader range of agencies and commercial companies than they have been before,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.
“The tendency towards excess by government agencies seems to be one of the only constants in Washington,” King remarked.
Heroism or Flailing for Funds?
WikiLeaks is by no means the first setup to shed light on secret government activities; Cryptome, for instance, has been doing so since 1996.
WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange learned his skills at Cryptome in this interview, according to Cryptome Cofounder John Young, and he warned that sites like this are under government surveillance.
Given this, is WikiLeaks’ establishment of Spy File an act of heroism, or is it just a publicity stunt to gain media attention and pull in donations?
“It’s a clever re-spin of the ‘governments are evil’ theme to try to focus the attention of the media on how governments aren’t just evil with each other but are evil against their citizens,” Lieberman said.