In Colombia, the worst fears of the surveillance state are on display

Complaints that the surveillance state has become too large and unwieldy are common in the United States. Thanks to exports from the U.S. and some of its allies, Colombian citizens are feeling the same way, but with deadlier consequences.

A handful of companies based in Italy, Israel, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the U.S. have sold surveillance technology to authorities in Colombia, according to research published this month by the UK-based Privacy International. The technology enables Colombian law enforcement and intelligence agencies to engage in surveillance activities similar to those conducted by the National Security Agency in the U.S.

The technology allows Colombian police to do things such as hack electronic devices unbeknownst to users, install offensive malware that allow for remote access and control, and harvest telephone data en masse. Like the U.S., Colombian law doesn’t necessarily allow for such surveillance to take place. “This type of mass, automated surveillance is not explicitly authorized under Colombian law,” the researchers note.

In some cases, the public has yet to understand what some of the technology does. One tool sold mirrors the “Stingray” program used in the U.S, a tool contracted to local law enforcement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It works by indiscriminately capturing all telephone data, including conversations, of all the people in a given area. It is used when law enforcement is trying to find a specific target, but allows them to spy on hundreds or even thousands of people in the process.

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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