On 21st March, a good article in the New York Times starts by saying that sophisticated surveillance, once the domain of world powers, is increasingly available on the private market.  Smaller countries are seizing on the tools — sometimes for darker purposes.  The Saudi government’s reliance on a firm from Israel, an adversary for decades, for its surveillance activities – as revealed in the Jamal Khashoggi affair offers a glimpse of a new age of digital warfare governed by few rules and of a growing economy, now valued at $12 billion, of “spies” for hire.  The article concerns an investigation undertaken by the newspaper.  It says that NSO of Israel, and a competitor, the Emirati firm DarkMatter, exemplify the proliferation of privatised spying.  The firms have enabled governments not only to hack criminal elements like terrorist groups and drug cartels but also target activists and journalists.  The FBI is said to be investigating current and former American employees of DarkMatter for possible cybercrimes.  The Middle East is said to be the epicentre of this new era of privatised spying.  NSO helped the Saudi government track its adversaries outside the kingdom, and helped the Mexican government hunt drug kingpins.  Mexico is also said to have used the software as part of a broader government and industry surveillance effort – to track at least 2 dozen journalists, government critics, international investigators looking into the unsolved disappearance of 43 students, even backers of soda (sugar) tax.  Targets were subjected to a stream of harassing text messages that contained malware – some messages warned that their spouses were having affairs, others that a relative had passed away.  In one case, when government officials were not able to infiltrate the phone of a journalist, they targeted her 16-year-old son’s.  In 2017, a former US NSA hacker began providing FBI agents with information about DarkMatter’s activities as a whistleblower.  The article then refers to the political and legal (i.e. outdated legislation) problems for US law enforcement in dealing with such as DarkMatter.

Author: raytodd2017

Chartered Legal Executive and former senior manager with Isle of Man Customs and Excise, where I was (amongst other things) Sanctions Officer (for UN/EU sanctions), Export Licensing Officer and Manager of the Legal-Library & Collectorate Support Section

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