The NSO Group is not the only controversial company due to be attending this year’s Security & Policing Event.
Of the 300 companies due to be exhibiting, we discovered nine other surveillance manufacturers that have previously been accused of threatening human rights around the world.
Hikvision is the “world’s leading provider of innovative video surveillance products and solutions,” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.
- Facial Recognition Cameras
- CCTV Cameras
- ANPR Technology
The company, which is partially state-owned, has headquarters in Hangzhou, China, and operates globally with research and development centers in Montreal, California, Beijing and London.
It offers a comprehensive “Safe City” solution that incorporates facial recognition cameras, Automatic Number Plate Registration (ANPR) technology and UAV devices.
The company has previously sold its surveillance cameras to British police forces, hospitals, universities, schools and the parliamentary estate, according to an article by The Intercept.
This January, South Australia’s health department removed CCTV cameras made by the company due to security concerns, according to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Hikvision has also been accused of providing its surveillance equipment to authorities in Xinjiang, northwestern China, where a complex web of surveillance technologies has been used to assist the forced arbitrary detention of an estimated one million Turkic Muslims.
According to a report by the The Financial Times, the company sold authorities nearly 1,000 facial recognition cameras to be placed at mosques in the region.
In a report by IPVM, the company was also accused of openly marketing AI enabled cameras that were allegedly capable of automatically identifying Uyghurs.
The company declined to comment on the report and swiftly removed the webpage after IPVM inquired about the issue, according to the article.
In October 2019, the Trump administration placed Hikvision on the US Industry and Security Bureau’s “Entity List” which greatly restricts American companies’ ability to trade with the company.
According to the Bureau, the Hangzhou-based security firm was added to the list because it was “determined by the U.S. Government to be acting contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States”.
The company has denied any wrongdoing in the region: “We have never done any inappropriate actions in Xinjiang.”
AnyVision specializes in artificial intelligence and surveillance solutions for private companies and law enforcement agencies.
It is headquartered in Israel and has offices in Singapore, Mexico, Brazil, the US and UK.
- Facial Recognition Cameras
- Access Management Solutions
AnyVision offers “real-world application of face, body and object recognition with unparalleled accuracy and technology”, according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.
A blog post on their website declares that: “The ethical use of Artificial Intelligence sits at the heart of everything we do at AnyVision.”
However, an investigative report by NBC in October 2019 found that the company had provided Israeli forces with technology that had been used as part of a covert surveillance program targeting Palestinians in the occupied territories.
“According to five sources familiar with the matter, AnyVision’s technology powers a secret military surveillance project throughout the West Bank.” – NBC News
AnyVision disputed claims made in the article and the company’s CEO, Eylon Etshtein, initially threatened to sue NBC, allegedly telling reporters that AnyVision was the “most ethical company known to man”.
The company later revised this position and stated that: “As a private company we are not in a position to speak on behalf of any country, company or institution.”
However, in August 2019, the company did confirm that its technology is being used by the Israeli military at border crossing checkpoints.
Microsoft, which had provided funding to AnyVision, subsequently launched an audit of the facial recognition company to determine whether it had been acting in compliance with Microsoft’s ethical principles on biometric technologies.
The results of the audit are not currently publicly available.
RCS is a company based in Italy that specializes in telecommunications monitoring and gathering applications.
- Communication Interception Applications
- Social Network Analysis Tools
According to the company’s listing on the event’s website, it offers law enforcement agencies “Advanced IP Decoding and Metadata Extraction” technologies, as well as “Network Monitoring” and “Network Probe” solutions.
Privacy International has accused the company of being instrumental in constructing a repressive nationwide communications monitoring system in Syria from 2007 to 2012.
“Western businesses including RCS SpA (Italy) and VASTech (South Africa) were important contributors to Syria’s repressive surveillance state.” – Privacy International
Employees from the company have denied the allegations and accused Privacy International’s article of including “numerous falsehoods”.
The company’s website currently promotes its “MIT03 Monitoring Suite” that “retrieves, decodes, processes and stores content coming from virtually any kind of communication network”.
Additionally, it lists “social network analysis tools”, “active intrusion systems (Trojans)” and “WiFi catchers” as currently available products.
The latest Freedom on the Net report by Freedom House identified the rise of social media monitoring solutions as a key development in the decline of internet freedoms in 2019.
“The booming commercial market for social media surveillance has lowered the cost of entry not only for the security services of dictatorships, but also for national and local law enforcement agencies in democracies, where it is being used with little oversight or accountability.” – Freedom House
EXFO Homeland Security
EXFO Homeland Security is a tactical communication intelligence company with offices around the world, including in China and the UK.
- Communication Interception Applications
- UAV / Counter-UAV Technology
It “provides covert solutions for mobile phone interrogation, direction finding, cellular/WiFi grabbing and network analysis”, according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.
The company faced controversy in 2018 after Privacy International obtained a brochure for the company’s “NetHawk” product.
The brochure markets the product – which is a type of IMSI catcher — as being capable of “collecting mobile phone information directly and unnoticeably from the air enabling monitoring the presence and activities of the mobiles in that location”.
It can also conduct “direction finding of the target mobile phones [and] interception of the calls and SMSs”, according to the brochure.
IMSI catchers are a type of eavesdropping device that spoof a mobile tower and are considered a type of man-in-the-middle attack.
The devices have received sustained criticism from civil society organizations due to their ability to secretively and indiscriminately monitor users. Some versions of the technology can also intercept and divert text messages sent to a target’s device.
According to Privacy International: “IMSI catchers interfere with a range of human rights, including the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.”
EXFO Homeland Security has also been accused of previously selling this invasive technology to a variety of regimes that have been accused of using surveillance technologies to target human rights defenders and journalists.
“EXFO licenses include exports to Bosnia, Oman, Indonesia, Mexico, Serbia, Morocco, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and Macedonia.” – Vice
Several of the countries listed above are also thought to have deployed NSO’s Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Citizen Lab.
According to the company’s website: “EXFO and our affiliates aim for the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all of our activities.”
NEC is a Japanese company with offices around the world. They specialize in facial recognition software, data analytics and cyber security solutions.
- Surveillance Cameras
- Facial Recognition Cameras
- Predictive Identification Systems
On January 24, the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service announced that it will begin using Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology acquired from NEC in the capital.
The announcement came just a week after the European Commission proposed to ban the technology due to a lack of regulatory frameworks.
According to the company’s website, its NeoFace Watch solution “outperforms all other face recognition systems in matching accuracy”.
The company had already provided the South Wales Police with the technology to be used at Cardiff airport and various sporting stadiums.
However, questions remain about the efficacy of the system. According to a report by The Guardian, “During 55 hours of deployment the system flagged up 2,900 potential matches of which 2,755 were false positives.”
London-based NGO Big Brother Watch also recently claimed that while deployed in Stratford, the technology had a 100% misidentification rate.
Multiple studies have also shown that facial recognition algorithms often contain racial and gender biases.
“Facial recognition has dangerous inaccuracies, particularly for ethnic minorities, women and older people […] the British public are effectively being used as guinea pigs in a dystopian mass surveillance experiment.” – Silkie Carlo, Big Brother Watch
There are considerable concerns that by deciding to use live facial recognition capabilities, the Metropolitan Police are normalizing the technology which may lead to a rapid increase in the number of police forces in the UK and abroad using it.
CellXion is a British company that specializes in “cellular intelligence gathering and geo-location tools,” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.
The company is currently promoting its “Quad Modem Telemetry System VPN Platform” on its website. The technology can be used for the “backhaul of high definition video and other surveillance traffic”, “remote monitoring”, “vehicle tracking and monitoring” and “as a secure communication tool”.
In 2016, a report by the Bristol Cable found that the company was an important player in the sale of IMSI catchers and other Covert Communications Data Capture (CCDC) technologies around the UK.
This reportedly included a £1 million contract with the Metropolitan Police and a £100,000 contract with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary.
Police forces around the country have proved obstructive when asked to clarify their usage of the devices and the legality of the technology remains contested.
The Covert Technology Suppliers Forum
The Covert Technology Suppliers Forum represents 45 organizations that specialize in covert detection, interception, surveillance and counter measures.
- Gamma Group
- Domo Tactical Communications
- EXFO Homeland Security
According to the group’s listing on the event’s website, it “works collaboratively and understands well the capabilities within its membership, so can assist you in refining your search for specific products and services”.
Several of companies represented by the Forum have faced accusations that their technologies have been used to enable human rights abuses around the world.
Some of the group’s members, including EXFO Homeland Security, have their own stalls booked for this year’s event. Although others do not, the Covert Technology Suppliers Forum will ensure that they are represented in some capacity.
According to the group’s website, Gamma Group is “an international manufacturer of surveillance & monitoring systems with technical and sales offices in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa” and a member of the Forum.
The company has been accused by several human rights organizations of distributing the targeted and highly invasive FinFisher spyware to undemocratic regimes around the world, targeting journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians.
The spyware is reportedly capable of bypassing antivirus systems, logging the keystrokes of its target and can even access their microphone and camera remotely.
According to a report by Citizen Lab, the spyware was used in Bahrain to monitor activists, opposition leaders, journalists and law firms.
The report also found that FinFisher had been used track Ethiopian dissidents in the UK and US.
Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights defender from the UAE, was also targeted with the spyware, according to Amnesty International. In 2018, he was also targeted by the NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to the NGO.
According to Gamma Group’s website, it has been working with government agencies since the 1990s and has offices in “Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia”.
Domo Tactical Communications (DTC) are also a member of the Forum and will be exhibiting their products at their own stall, according to the event’s website.
The UK-based company specializes in surveillance and communication technologies and offers a range of covert audio/visual surveillance solutions.
In 2016, Motherboard listed DTC as one of the companies that had applied for exportation licenses for telecommunications interception devices.
According to the company’s website, they still offer “Cellular Solutions” that have “geo-locating capabilities” and can be used to “covertly analyze a cellular telecom network and remotely monitor cellular equipment connecting to that network.”
BAE Systems Applied Intelligence
BAE Systems is Britain’s biggest arms company with headquarters in London. It offers a wide range of cybersecurity and lawful interception products.
It reportedly employs over 4,200 people in 18 countries, according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.
- Communication Interception Tools
- Data Retention Solutions
A 2017 investigative report by the BBC and a Danish newspaper found that a subsidiary of the company had been selling internet surveillance tools to the government of the United Arab Emirates since 2014.
The Intercept reported that the tools sold were capable of “mapping a target’s social networks and extracting personal information and communications from devices including voice recordings, video, messages, and attachments”.
The subsidiary had previously been accused of selling surveillance tools to Saudi Arabia and the Tunisian regime, prior to the Arab Spring uprisings.
BAE has also faced criticism for its role in supplying munitions during the ongoing war in Yemen.
In December 2019, a group of human rights organizations accused the company of being party to alleged war crimes in the conflict, filing a complaint with the ICC.
In response to the BBC’s investigation regarding the sale of surveillance equipment to the UAE, the company responded: “It is against our policy to comment on contracts with specific countries or customers. BAE Systems works for a number of organizations around the world, within the regulatory frameworks of all relevant countries and within our own responsible trading principles.”
NeoSoft is a Swiss company that produces a wide range of mobile communication products.
- IMSI Catchers
- Communication Interception Tools
According to the company’s listing on the Security and Policing event’s website, the company offers “Wi-Fi Monitoring”, “GSM/UMTS/LTE Active Monitoring”, an “IMSI Catcher with Public Number detection” and a “WiFi jamming solution”.
Privacy International accused the company in 2014 of attempting to sell its mobile monitoring solutions to Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a unit of the Bangladesh Police force that is “implicated in serious human rights violations,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Following the release of the report, NeoSoft was referred for prosecution for failing to comply with export licensing regulations and “although the prosecution was eventually abandoned, the proposed export to the RAB was halted,” according to Privacy International.
The company now makes an explicit statement on its website that: “All our security solutions are designed for authorized government law enforcement agencies only and are subject to Swiss export control.”