Tag Archives: privacy international

Privacy International: Human rights organisations file formal complaints against surveillance firms Gamma International and Trovicor with British and German governments

Privacy International, Press release:

Privacy International, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch and Reporters without Borders filed formal complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the UK and Germany against two surveillance companies on Friay 1st February. The British and German National Contact Points are being asked to investigate Gamma Internationaland Trovicor respectively with regards to both companies’ potential complicity in serious human rights abuses in Bahrain.

The complainants argue that there are grounds to investigate whether surveillance products and services provided by Gamma International and Trovicor have been instrumental in multiple human rights abuses in Bahrain, including arbitrary detention and torture, as well as violations of the right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association. They allege that there is evidence that information gathered from intercepted phone and internet communications may have been used to systematically detain and torture political dissidents and activists and to extort confessions from them. If the allegations are upheld, the companies are likely to be found to be in breach of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises that set out principles and standards for responsible business conduct.

The UK’s NCP is based at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the German NCP is based at the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. If the NCPs accept the complaints against Gamma and Trovicor, they will then:

  • investigate the extent of the defendants’ complicity in human rights abuses in Bahrain;
  • mediate between complainants and defendants;
  • issue final statements on whether OECD Guidelines have in fact been breached;
  • provide recommendations to the defendants on how to avoid further breaches; and
  • follow up in order to ensure that they comply with those recommendations.

Ample Study On Surveillance in Ex-Soviet States

A diagram of the SORM surveillance system. Illustration: MFI-Soft

A diagram of the SORM surveillance system. Illustration: MFI-Soft

A joint investigation by Agentura.RuCitizenLab and Privacy International with the title “In Ex-Soviet States, Russian Spy Tech Still Watches You” was recently published in Wired magazine. It explains how the SORM surveillance system, initiated in the mid 1980s’, is still working not only in Russia, but also in former USSR states, like Ukraine and Belarus. It also explains why the SORM surveillance mechanisms are different than the mechanisms used by Western societies. It is definitely worth reading for those curious about the Surveillance Society. I am not extremely convinced that the difference between surveillance techniques associated with SORM and surveillance techniques associated with Western mechanisms is a consistent one, but perhaps it is just me.

On November 12, the Russian Supreme Court okayed the wiretapping of an opposition activist. The Court ruled that spying on Maxim Petlin, a regional opposition leader in Yekaterinburg, was lawful, since he had taken part in rallies where calls against extending the powers of Russia’s security services were heard. The court decided that these were demands for “extremist actions” and approved surveillance carried out by the national interception system, known as SORM.

Manned by the country’s main security service, the FSB, this ”System of Operative Search Measures” has been in use for more than two decades. But recently, SORM has been upgraded. It is ingesting new types of data. It is being used as Moscow’s main tool for spying on the country’s political protesters. And it has become extremely useful in the quest to make sure that the Kremlin’s influence in the former Soviet Union continues long into the second regime of Vladimir Putin.

Meet the New Boss

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many of the KGB’s regional branches became the security services of the newly independent states. But they didn’t stray far from the Kremlin’s lead. They modeled their governing laws after Moscow’s, and used similar technology, too. Namely, SORM — Russia’s nationwide system of automated and remote legal interception on all kinds of communications.

SORM’s tactical and technical foundations were developed by a KGB research institute in the mid-1980s. Initially SORM was installed on analogue telephone lines. As new technologies developed, SORM did, as well.


Today SORM-1 intercepts telephone traffic, including mobile networks, while SORM-2 is responsible for intercepting internet traffic, including VoIP. SORM-3 gathers information from all communication media, and offers long-term storage (three years), providing access to all data on subscribers. In addition, SORM enables the use of mobile control points, a laptop that can be plugged directly into communication hubs and immediately intercept and record the operator’s traffic.

SORM also proved essential to spy on social networks based in Russia. “We can use SORM to take stuff off their servers behind their backs,” an FSB official told us. According to figures published by Russia’s Supreme Court, over the last five years the number of legal telephone intercepts alone has almost doubled, from 265,937 intercepts and recordings of phone calls and e-mails to 466,152 in 2011.

Read the whole study HERE.