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Leaks Bring New Information about Surveillance in Latin America to Light

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Leaks about NSA's spying in Brazil and Hacking Team's LatAm clients shine spotlight on surveillance issues.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently concluded her first state visit to the U.S. after abruptly canceling a trip scheduled for October 2013 due to allegations that the NSA had spied on her. While in the U.S., President Rousseff responded to questions about the spying issue, saying, “Some things have changed […] I believe President Obama.” But fresh information about the scope of U.S. surveillance could imperil the rapprochement.

The Intercept has reported that National Security Agency documents released by WikiLeaks show the NSA's list of targets in Brazil was broader than previously known. In addition to close members of President Rousseff’s team, such as her secretary and chief of staff, the NSA targeted a number of top figures in Rousseff’s government, including high-level officials in the ministries of finance and economics and the country’s central bank.

Meanwhile, an attack on the Italian surveillance software firm, Hacking Team, raised concerns that Latin Americans across the region may be increasingly vulnerable to digital snooping by their own governments. After being hacked on Monday, Hacking Team’s Twitter account began directing readers to 400GB of the company’s internal documents. In addition to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and several governments with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, a number of  Latin American countries are reported to have been Hacking Team customers, among them Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, and Panama.

Hacking Team’s software allows users to remotely control targets’ computers, record digital communications and even activate the cameras on infected computers.

According to a tweet by the Mexican digital rights group, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights Defense Network—R3D), Mexico was Hacking Team’s highest paying client country. Up to 14 Mexican institutions may have purchased surveillance and hacking software from the company, including the federal police, national intelligence service (CISEN), defense ministry, and several state governments. So far, there are no reports regarding if and how these organizations deployed Hacking Team’s products, or the legal framework for their use.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: NSA spying, Dilma Rousseff, Hacking Team

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