Several governments are increasingly resorting to online spying, cyber-attacks and intrusions on dissidents and journalists to suppress dissent and curb the freedom of speech, an international media watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.
In this year’s “Enemies of the Internet” report, Reporters Without Borders, or Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) singled out five nations—Syria, China, Iran, Bahrain and Vietnam — as the top five states that conduct “systematic online surveillance resulting in serious human rights violations.”
Surveillance in these countries targets dissidents and has grown in recent months, a statement that accompanied the report, published on the eve of World Day against Cyber-Censorship, stated.
Burma, Cuba, North Korea, and Uzbekistan, which made an appearance in last year’s report, were dropped from the latest.
The report also identified “Corporate Enemies of the Internet,” five private sector companies — Europe-based companies including Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and the U.S.-based Blue Coat — that it regards as “digital era mercenaries” because they sell products that are used by authoritarian governments to monitor Internet activities.
Online surveillance includes large-scale monitoring of the Internet and targeted surveillance on specific individuals.
Germany-based Trovicor’s surveillance and interception products have enabled Bahrain’s royal family to spy on journalists and news organizations, while in conflict-torn Syria, Deep Packet Inspection products developed by Blue Coat made it possible for the regime to spy on dissidents online, the report stated.
Eagle products supplied by France’s Amesys were discovered in the offices of slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police, while malware designed by Italy’s Hacking Team and U.K.’s Gamma has been used by governments to capture people’s passwords, the report said.
However, traditional surveillance, including tapping of phone conversations, has not disappeared, despite online surveillance expanding the reach of governments, RSF said. Policemen continue to lurk near Internet cafes in Eritrea, while Vietnamese dissidents are followed and sometimes attacked by plainclothes policemen, the report said. The Chinese cyber-dissident Hu Jia and his wife Zeng Jinyang have had policemen stationed at the foot of their apartment building for months.
RSF has called on Western governments for introduction of controls on the export of surveillance software and hardware to nations with poor human rights records.
Under the E.U. and U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran and Syria, the export of surveillance technology to these nations are banned.