Weapons of Mass Surveillance
Exposing the weapon that brought down the Arab Spring
Did British surveillance technology help suppress the Arab Spring? The unprecedented reach of modern surveillance has meant that more of our lives are subject to state-sponsored espionage. Governments with dubious human rights records, including those caught up in the Arab Spring, are now using technology to thoroughly track and quell any murmurs of dissent – and it is western companies that are providing the means to do so.
BAE's list of customers included Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, and Algeria. The technology works with keywords, intercepting all internet traffic in which they appear. A former Tunisian intelligence officer explains how President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali used it to track opponents. "You put in an opponent's name and you will see all the sites, blogs, social networks related to that user." It was used to similar effect in Saudi Arabia. Yahya Assiri, a former Saudi air officer, reveals "I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said more that 90% of the most active campaigners in 2011 have now vanished". Local campaigners now fear that mass surveillance will eradicate civil society in the Middle East.