Sunday, March 11, 2012
A number of recent reports indicated that various Bay Area businesses have, knowingly or not, contributed technology that might have been used to suppress protests, monitor journalists, arrest dissidents and stanch the free flow of information, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring.
The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have led the charge in reporting on how this technology ended up in the hands of oppressive governments and how it was used.
Among other things, the publications pointed out:
-- Blue Coat Systems of Sunnyvale acknowledged that Syria had been using more than a dozen of its devices to censor Web activity, though it denied it sold the technology to the country. It also reportedly provided technology in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the Journal reported, citing interviews with people working at or with local Internet service providers.
-- At a recent trade show, Net Optics of Santa Clara highlighted a case study in which it helped a "major mobile operator in China" to "analyze criminal activity" and "detect and filter undesirable content" on phones.
-- McAfee of Santa Clara, recently acquired by Intel Corp., has provided filtering software for Internet service providers in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the Journal reported, citing buyers and a regional reseller.
-- Hewlett-Packard equipment was reportedly installed in computer rooms in Syria as part of a surveillance system used to monitor e-mails and Internet use, Bloomberg reported, citing documents from the deal and a person familiar with the matter. The Italian company running the Syrian project, Area SpA, bought the equipment through resellers in Italy, the news organization said.
-- Cisco is expected to provide networking equipment that will be used in the Peaceful Chongqing project in China, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the deal. The high-tech surveillance system in the city of the same name will feature a network of up to 500,000 cameras, the report said.
The companies have said they didn't know how their technology ended up in these countries, insisted they can't help how end users employ their products, or stressed that their actions were perfectly legal.
Blue Coat said its technology was illegally transferred to Syria, which is subject to U.S. trade embargoes, without its knowledge.