Mass surveillance statistics

News & Analysis
Mass surveillance statistics

People often ask me why I investigate the surveillance trade - surely the police and intelligence services need these technologies to prevent serious crime and terrorism? I tell them that I completely agree - targeted surveillance, conducted within strict legal frameworks, can be a socially useful tool. However, vast swathes of the industry are in a different business altogether: mass surveillance.

Mass surveillance is when the state conducts pervasive blanket surveillance of entire populations, or significant proportions of populations, grabbing signals and packets indiscriminately. Surveillance on this scale is never proportionate and is therefore in contravention of international human rights norms - it is also unlawful in most democratic countries.

In a very rough and ready experiment, we mined our collection of brochures (many of which are available in the Wikileaks Spy Files) for statistics to get a sense of how prevalent mass surveillance practices are. In a total of 400 files, there were 80 occurrences of the word 'mass' and 35 occurrences of the term 'mass surveillance'. We also pulled out some choice quotes from the marketing material, selection below (our italics throughout)...

Cleartrail: "We have expertise in countrywide monitoring and offer systems with a wide range of interception capabilities in complex communication networks."

Telesoft: "...capable of targeted or mass capture of a few conversations on a handful of STM-1/OC-3 links to entire countrywide wireline telecommunications networks."

Utimaco: "Mass intercept monitors all calls and messages..."

VasTech: "A high end system can comprise of more than 100,000 simultaneous voice channels, allowing it to capture up to one billion intercepts per day and storing in excess of 5,000 Terabytes of information."

Agnitio: "8s3 Strategic, designed for mass voice interception and voice mining..."

And here's another statistic: of the 95 scheduled talks at the ISS World conference in Kuala Lumpur later this year, 14 of them include the word 'mass' in the title. Representatives from Trovicor are speaking on 'Multimedia Mass IP Interception - Capturing & Processing' and 'Applying Artificial Intelligence in Mass Monitoring of IP data'.