Private companies have developed wireless surveillance systems capable of tracking anyone with a mobile phone anywhere in the world, and governments across the globe — including the U.S. — are already customers.
Unidentified company employees “concerned that such systems are being abused” told The Washington Post the systems track cellphone users by pulling detailed records and information — including location data — from global cellular networks. The systems are capable of following users from country to country and hiding their surveillance presence from both phone owners and service providers.
Numerous governments around the world have already purchased or leased such systems and software, which can secretly collect records and follow users’ movement for days, weeks or even longer.
London-based surveillance activist group Privacy International posted on its website a 24-page marketing brochure for such a system from a Melville, N.Y.-based company called Verint. The brochure labeled “Commercially Confidential” is for a system called “SkyLock,” which includes the tagline “Locate. Track. Manipulate.”
The brochure describes the system as “a cost-effective, new approach to obtaining global location information concerning known targets,” and features screenshots of maps showing the system’s deployment in Brazil, Congo, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe and more. The documents is dated January 2013.
Verint is an analytics systems developer and describes itself on its website as “a global leader in Actionable Intelligence solutions for customer engagement optimization, security intelligence, and fraud, risk and compliance,” with customers in “more than 10,000 organizations in over 180 countries.”
Though longstanding government intelligence agencies like the U.S. National Security Agency or U.K. Government Communications Headquarters have employed cellphone tracking for some time, the Post reports that systems being developed by private companies like Verint give less-advanced governments access to powerful location-tracking capabilities.
“Any tin-pot dictator with enough money to buy the system could spy on people anywhere in the world,” Privacy International Deputy Director Eric King said in the report. “This is a huge problem.”
“You’re obviously trackable from all over the planet if you have a cellphone with you, as long as it’s turned on,” Berlin-based telecommunications security researcher Tobias Engel said. “It’s possible for almost anyone to track you as long as they are willing to spend some money on it.”