A couple of weeks back, we wrote about the hypocrisy of the US during the recent Huawei 5G infrastructure fiasco. In essence, it is all about any government’s right to place its citizens under surveillance.

The US claims that allowing Huawei to operate in the US could expose their citizens to Chinese surveillance. But US citizens (and citizens of other countries) already live under the most extensive surveillance program in history.

Following that article, we got plenty of requests for insight into these US and Global surveillance programs. Sam Bocetta, our US-based security guru, will take you through them. 

Surveillance

A Guide to the state of global surveillance – Sam Bocetta

“The genie is well and truly out of the bottle – every move you make, every breath you take someone is watching you.”

While you may think that a little dramatic consider the massive personal data Facebook has on you. Google and Apple know every search and every move. Uber knows where it took you and loyalty programs track your every purchase.

Hell, US Law enforcement uses private citizens webcams and bank ATM cams to monitor neighbourhoods. When was the last time you did not see citizen smartphone or crash-cam footage on the news?

Then there are security camera’s with Face ID. They are on traffic lights, power poles, railway and bus stations, and almost every street corner. It is almost impossible to escape surveillance. But, it goes far deeper than what we voluntarily let Zuckerberg et al., know!

Surveillance

‘Deeper’ means older, more entrenched, and more secretive.

Five Eyes

The oldest and most powerful international surveillance program is Five Eyes. Founded in 1941 this alliance was initially a response to the need to share intelligence between the US and UK during WW2.

Five Eyes

In 1946, the alliance became formal in the UKUSA Agreement 1940-1956, allowing the two governments to share intelligence from their ‘listening posts’. Over the following decade, three more countries came into the alliance: Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. While members since 1955 the agreement was so secretive that even the Australian Prime Minister did not know about it until 1973, and the public kept in the dark until 2005

ECHELON
Typical Echelon installation

Five Eyes collects and shares intelligence through a surveillance network known as ECHELON. The initial intent was to monitor communications with and from the USSR and its allies. This system was pretty basic by today’s standards. But the US and Great Britain still felt the need to deny its existence until it admitted to the public in the late 1990s.

Following 9/11, there was a massive expansion of the Five Eyes network and capabilities.

The ‘War on Terror’ was all the justification that the Five Eyes countries needed for total surveillance of their citizens. As the Snowden leaks reveal, this led to a massive expansion in the level of surveillance, during which the private communications of average citizens were intercepted and stored by default. 

This surveillance meant the development of vast networks of listening posts and bugs, feeding into a system named PRISM. A series of laws in all Five Eyes countries mandated that communications companies share their data with authorities. In practice, this means that Australian tech companies, Canadian web-hosting providers, mobile operators in the UK, and even US companies offering supposedly secure messaging services, must give this data to surveillance agencies. 

Other Global Surveillance Programs

PRISM

There are two expanded Five Eyes country alliances. Unfortunately, there has never been a public admission that these programs exist, and nor has there been a whistle-blower like Snowden to reveal their capabilities. Still, there is some evidence that they exist, even if little is known about what they can and can’t do.

The first is Nine Eyes, which adds Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway to the network. Though these countries have less access to surveillance data than the core members of Five Eyes, they still cooperate in collecting information for them. The Netherlands, for instance, may have a spying ‘array’ that feeds data to the broader network.

Then there is SIGINT Seniors Europe, more commonly known as Fourteen Eyes. This network adds Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden. We know little about the capabilities or level of sharing within this network. It appears to be primarily a system for sharing military information between members. Not that this makes it any less scary: post-2001, almost any piece of data can be deemed as having ‘military value’ and is potentially shared.