In Egypt this week, the Mubarak regime shut down Internet and cell phone communications before launching a violent crackdown against political protesters (watch Free Press' Timothy Karr discuss the use of technology in Egypt in the video to the right).
Now, Free Press has discovered that an American company — Boeing-owned Narus of Sunnyvale, CA — has sold Egypt "Deep Packet Inspection" (DPI) equipment that can be used to help the regime track, target and crush political dissent over the Internet and mobile phones.
Narus, now a Boeing subsidiary, was begun by Israeli technicians. Here in America, they're spying on users of Facebook and other social networking services. As always, the all-purpose excuse is catching pedophiles and terrorists -- but the Mubarak example reveals the real purpose for these apps.
Narus is developing a new technology that sleuths through billions of pieces of data on social networks and Internet services and connects the dots.
The new program, code-named Hone, is designed to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies a leg up on criminals who are now operating anonymously on the Internet.
It's trivial to set up a Gmail or Facebook account under a fake name. The question for law enforcement then becomes, how does it connect different pieces of information to the same person? "It's very hard to connect these two pieces of information," Nucci said. "We're really asking [law enforcement] to become almost like magicians."
Narus is best known as the creator of NarusInsight, an network monitoring device that can analyze traffic on IP networks. AT&T allegedly used a Narus system to wiretap customer data on behalf of the U.S. National Security Agency as part of a U.S. domestic terrorist surveillance program.
Hone works in tandem with NarusInsight. By Nucci's own admission, however, it can do some pretty "scary" things.
The software's user creates a target profile, and Hone then proceeds to link what Nucci calls "islands of information." Hone can analyze VOIP conversations, biometrically identify someone's voice or photograph and then associate it with different phone numbers.
"I can have a sample of your voice in English, and you can start speaking Mandarin tomorrow. It doesn't matter; I'm going to catch you."
It uses artificial intelligence to analyze e-mails and can link mails to different accounts, doing what Nucci calls topical analysis. "It's going to go through a set of documents and automatically it's going to organize them in topics -- I'm not talking about keywords as is done today, I'm talking about topics," he said.
FreePress wants a congressional investigation of Narus. I don't expect worthwhile action from this president or this congress. But we do need a national conversation on this topic -- and we need to stop buying the "pedos and terrorists" story.
We also need to get past defeatism -- as in: "Well, there's nothing we can do. There's no such thing as privacy any more." Sorry. Not buying that. We can have our privacy back if we demand it.
Some people say: "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about." Only a classic "good German" would rely on that cowardly excuse. Here's a better axiom: If the government were not doing something wrong, it would not have to worry about us.