WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has launched the website’s new project – the publication of hundreds of files detailing a global industry that gives governments tools to spy on their citizens.
They reveal the activities of about 160 companies in 25 countries that develop technologies to allow the tracking and monitoring of individuals by their mobile phones, email accounts and internet browsing histories.
“Today we release over 287 files documenting the reality of the international mass surveillance industry – an industry which now sells equipment to dictators and democracies alike in order to intercept entire populations,” Assange told reporters in London on Thursday.
He said that in the past 10 years it had grown from a covert industry that primarily supplied government intelligence agencies such as the NSA in the United States and Britain’s GCHQ, to a huge transnational business.
Assange has been in Britain for the past year fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual assault, living under tight bail conditions.
His case is due to come up again on December 5.
The documents on the website include manuals for surveillance products sold to repressive Arab regimes.
They have come to light in part from offices ransacked during rebellions in countries such as Egypt and Libya earlier this year, as well as investigative work by WikiLeaks and its media and campaigning partners.
“These systems that are revealed in these documents show exactly the kind of systems that the Stasi wished they could have built,” said Jacob Appelbaum, a former WikiLeaks spokesman and computer expert at the University of Washington.
“These systems have been sold by Western companies to places for example like Syria and Libya and Tunisia and Egypt. These systems are used to hunt people down and to murder.”
Experts who worked on the release warned that at present the industry was completely unregulated, and urged governments worldwide to introduce new laws governing the export of such technology.