New Initiative from Privacy International Tracks the Global Surveillance Industry

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New Initiative from Privacy International Tracks the Global Surveillance Industry

  • New report entitled Global Surveillance Industry maps out growth and scale of global surveillance industry
  • Privacy International, in collaboration with Transparency Toolkit, launches searchable database featuring over 1500 brochures and data on over 520 surveillance companies as well as over 600 reported individual exports of specific surveillance technologies taken from open source records, including investigative and technical reports, as well as government export licensing data

A new initiative launched today by Privacy International aims to track the growth and scale of the global surveillance industry, a shadowy sector consisting of companies selling a wide range of electronic surveillance technology to government agencies across the world. Made available today is the world's largest publicly available educational resource of data and documents on surveillance, the Surveillance Industry Index (SII), which is based on data collected by journalists, activists, and researchers across the world and is the product of months of collaboration between Transparency Toolkit and Privacy International. Accompanying the index is a landmark report charting the industry's development and its current reach.

The SII, which is completely searchable, features over 1500 brochures and data on over 520 surveillance companies as well as over 600 reported individual exports of specific surveillance technologies taken from open source records, including investigative and technical reports, as well as government export licensing data. The resource will help the public, activists, journalists and policy makers better understand the modern surveillance industry and technologies.

The Global Surveillance Industry report overview

The report “The Global Surveillance Industry" charts the development of the industry since the earliest reports in the 70s that wiretapping equipment was being exported by Western countries and used by authoritarian regimes. It provides an accessible introduction into the types of the technologies currently on offer, and uses a combination of export data, company data and analysis of surveillance technologies to assess the current industry. The 528 surveillance companies in the SII are overwhelmingly based in economically advanced, large arms exporting states, with the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany, and Israel comprising the top five countries in which the companies are headquartered. 87% of the companies are headquartered in OECD member states, and 75% of them are in NATO states. The report then presents an analysis of the surveillance industry in Israel, the US, UK, Germany, and Italy, including an analysis of known exports as well as industry characteristics. It also analyses 152 reported imports of surveillance technologies into the Middle East and North Africa region, and discusses policy developments aimed at regulating the trade in some of the technologies, including through industry self-regulation, sanctions, and export controls.

It concludes that without legal mechanisms capable of restricting exports and bringing transparency to the industry, the trade in surveillance technologies will further undermine privacy and facilitate other human rights abuses, as well as undermine international security.

Edin Omanovic, Research Officer at Privacy International:

 
The launch of today's initiative and the accompanying report provides much needed information about a secretive industry which has grown to meet government demand for more surveillance power. State surveillance is one of the most important and polarizing issues of our time, yet the secrecy around it means it's a debate lacking reliable facts. Understanding the role of the surveillance industry, and how these technologies are traded and used across the world, is crucial to not only understanding this debate, but also fostering accountability and the development of comprehensive safeguards and effective policy.
 

M.C. McGrath of Transparency Toolkit:
 

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

By collecting a variety of documents and datasets about the surveillance industry into a single, comprehensive archive, the Surveillance Industry Index offers one of the most complete overviews of surveillance tech being sold around the world. Additionally, the searchable SII archive enables people to rapidly filter, find, and understand the surveillance technologies likely to effect their lives and work. We hope that simplifying the process of researching this secretive industry will help journalists, activists, researchers, policy makers, and anyone concerned about surveillance better respond to issues caused by surveillance technology.

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Background

PI originally released the SII in 2013, but after a bug in the drupal app used to develop it, we decided it was safer to take the entire resource down than to risk attacks on users’ details. In collaboration with Transparency Toolkit, the entire interface has been re-designed. Transparency Toolkit is a pro-transparency group which uses free software to collect and analyze open data and works with investigative journalists and human rights organizations to turn that into useful, actionable knowledge. This version contains data and brochures on more companies, as well as a load of new information on exports of surveillance equipment, and will be updatedregularly to track the industry.  

Privacy International is committed to fighting for the right to privacy across the world.

We investigate the secret world of government surveillance and expose the companies enabling it. We litigate to ensure that surveillance is consistent with the rule of law. We advocate for strong national, regional, and international laws that protect privacy. We conduct research to catalyse policy change. We raise awareness about technologies and laws that place privacy at risk, to ensure that the public is informed and engaged.

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