By Naomi LaChance
Oct 20, 2018
Israeli cybersecurity companies sold lucrative surveillance systems to countries that then committed human rights violations, according to a report by Haaretz published Friday. The programs were used to prosecute LGBT citizens, detain human rights activists and discriminate against Muslims, according to 100 sources in 15 countries.
Intelligence experts who previously served in the Israel Defense Force’s Unit 8200 went on to take new products to market, according to the report. A sprawling, lucrative, largely unregulated industry, based in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Herzliya Pituah, sells to foreign governments that then use the products to spy on their citizens’ electronic communications.
According to one source who worked in Latin America for the company Verint, which makes a range of surveillance products: “There was one time that I was teaching people how to collect information from the social networks. I’m working with the trainees and explaining things to them, when suddenly they ask me to run a check on [political] demonstrators. Just like that, in the middle of the training session.”
Israeli equipment has been used to monitor dissidents in South Sudan, Nigeria and Colombia. It was also used to monitor social networks in Angola and Malaysia.
An anonymous source who works in the Israeli cybersecurity field said: Even when limitations are placed over the capabilities of the computer programs, the companies don’t know who they will be used against. Everyone in this field knows that we are manufacturing systems that invade people’s lives and violate their most basic rights. It’s a weapon—like selling a pistol. The thing is that in this industry, people think about the technological challenges, not about the implications. I want to believe that the Defense Ministry supervises exports in the right way.
“I can’t constrict my client’s capabilities,” another Israeli cybersecurity expert said. “You can’t sell someone a Mercedes and tell him not to drive faster than 100 kilometers an hour. The truth is that the Israeli companies don’t know what use will be made of the systems they sell.”