A Clunky Cyberstrategy

Washington Preaches Internet Freedom But Practices Surveillance

(Vaguely Artistic / flickr)

Soon after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power last year, protesters stormed the Egyptian national security headquarters, in which police records are housed. Some Egyptians found files the authorities had compiled about them. Others uncovered files focusing on friends and colleagues. There were wiretap transcripts, reams of printouts of intercepted e-mails, and mobile messages, communications once thought to be private.

As it turns out, American-made technology had helped Mubarak and his security state collect, compile, and parse vast amounts of data about everyday citizens. The Egyptian government was using "deep packet inspection" technology purchased from Narus, a Sunnyvale, California-based firm owned by Boeing. The company's most successful product is NarusInsight, which according to Narus' website, helps "network and security operators obtain real-time situational awareness of the traffic traversing their networks." In short, the same technology not only assists network administrators in pursuing attackers and intruders; it can also help governments patrol their citizens' online activities. Narus' core clients are the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency, but a good portion of the company's business comes from abroad. In 2005, Narus signed a multimillion-dollar licensing deal for the use of its technology with Egypt, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Libya.

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Noting the Narus case this week is particularly ironic as the White House announced new sanctions against Iran and Syria on Monday, aimed at technology that Tehran and Damascus are using to target their own citizens. On Monday, President Barack Obama said of the Internet and mobile technologies that they, "should be in place to empower citizens, not suppress them." 

In the Internet age, it is technically trivial for corporations and governments to gain access to people's private communications and track their movements. The Obama administration recognizes that

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