Privacy Experts Attack Russian Hi-Tech Spy Devices

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su_note note_color=”#daf2fd” radius=”2″]TN Note: Technocrats invent because they can. That people would not like what they invented does not concern them in the least. It is this very mentality that fuels the mantra to use science to engineer society as they see fit. [/su_note]

New Russian technologies, including phonecall interception and a facial recognition app, have stirred a fierce debate about privacy and data monitoring.

Infowatch, a Moscow-based IT security company managed by businesswoman Natalya Kasperskaya, found itself in hot water last month after it revealed it had invented a system that companies can use to intercept employees’ mobile phone conversations.

Companies outside Russia have also devised call interception software, and Infowatch already markets products that monitor employees’ e-mails, USB keys and printers.

But Kasperskaya says she was taken aback by the storm that surrounded the mobile phone innovation.

“We weren’t expecting this. For us it was only another channel of communication,” Kasperskaya told AFP in an interview.

The Russian authorities and members of the public lashed the invention as a breach of law or infringement of privacy.

Infowatch traces its origins back to 1997, when Kasperskaya and her then-husband, now divorced, Eugene Kaspersky co-founded the Kaspersky Lab security software company, which has gone on to global success.

The goal behind phonecall interception, Kasperskaya said, is to provide large businesses with a tool to prevent information leaks, including companies whose success depends on protecting corporate secrets.

Communications minister Nikolai Nikiforov said a court ruling was needed to get permission to tap phones.

The speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, said he feared such technologies could be used to malicious ends.

Facing objections from the authorities, the company has refrained from designing a voice recognition system, even though there is demand from sensitive sectors including banking, the oil industry and large public companies.

Monitoring of communications by private corporations touches a nerve in a country where the shadowy KGB security service once monitored dissidents and where the state is keen to retain its grip on citizens’ personal data.

The KGB’s post-Soviet successor, the FSB, has long used a sophisticated system called SORM to carry out surveillance communications by telephone or on the Internet.

The revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that the US National Security Agency also carries out surveillance on a mass scale.

Human rights advocacy group Agora has said that nine million Russians, including opposition figures and political activists, have come under state surveillance since 2007.

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