Western company tried to shift surveillance tools to oppressive governments, leak suggests

Surveillance tools in themselves are often enough to evoke unease. But Circinus, a defence contractor headed by noted Trump supporter Elliott Broidy, has taken it one step further, vying to sell them to oppressive regimes, claims a new report by the The Intercept.

Western company tried to shift surveillance tools to oppressive governments, leak suggests

The accused’s reputation precedes him; Broidy has previously been convicted of state bribery, and is known for being a top Trump fundraiser. And now he’s got one more dubious undertaking to add to his roster. The Intercept has obtained documents ostensibly originating from Circinus, Broidy’s firm, which show the company’s plans to shift surveillance tools to repressive governments, including those in the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Romania and Cyprus.

Circinus is, somewhat predictably, a bit of a closed book. Its website is peppered with jargon and acronyms, presumably to throw critics off the scent; I doubt even its deployer understands the phrase “analyse Open Source Information in order to get the most actionable Open Source Information and the other proprietary data”. This kind of trickery harks back to the days of GCSE English Literature, when you’d enter Human Thesaurus Mode to cover up the fact that you hadn’t actually read Of Mice and Men.

Meanwhile, Circinus’ tools are reported to harvest social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, with the capacity to identify “detractors”. Reading between the no-so-cryptic lines, this means political dissidents.

The software only pertains to publicly available data (makes you rethink that open profile on Instagram, doesn’t it?) but could conceivably be used to punish regime critics en masse. This objective jars with the company’s ostensibly protectionist – and patriotic – mission statement: “Are you a patriot determined to keep our country – both government and private industry – safe?” it demands to know. Meanwhile, its client list reads like a who’s-who of the hawkish wings of US government, from the special forces and military intelligence to Homeland Security.

Now, the governments of Romania, Tunisia and the UAE could join the lineup, following The New York Times’ March 2018 allegations that the countries are prospective buyers. The Times’ report details meetings between Broidy and state officials from the aforementioned, in addition to purported correspondence between the Trump cheerleader and others regarding his endeavours to win over the UAE.

Many of the countries reportedly targeted suffer from flawed human rights records, making any potential safeguards against internal surveillance pretty null and void. When Trump supporters from the Land of the Free become enablers of this kind of state-sponsored monitoring, we’ve got to ask ourselves whether America needs a serious rebrand.

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