Syria’s Internet network has long been kept under close surveillance. Now it turns out that the surveillance has been stepped up.
The Telecomix hactivist group has revealed that 34 Blue Coat servers are operating in Syria (WeFC link). The servers are using DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) technology to analyse and control the activities of Syrian Internet users – censuring websites, intercepting emails, obtaining details of sites visited and so on.
As the Assad regime recovers territory in the civil war, the installation of Blue Coat servers in what is already the world’s third largest prison for news providers represents an additional threat to news and information, netizens, journalists and their sources.
Reporters Without Borders calls on Blue Coat – a California-based company already identified as an Enemy of the Internet in the special report on online surveillance that we released on 12 March, World Day Against Cyber-Censorship – to explain the presence of 34 of its servers in Syria and their use by the regime to track down its opponents.
Reporters Without Borders wrote in its March report: "If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens. If their digital surveillance products were sold to an authoritarian regime by an intermediary without their knowledge, their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights.
Blue Coat replied in an email to Reporters Without Borders the same day: "We fully respect and support human rights, such as freedom of expression. We do not design our products, or condone their use, to suppress human rights. In 2013, we are conducting a comprehensive review of our business, policies and procedures to review what further steps we can take to limit misuse of our products."
Following yesterday’s identification of 34 new servers in Syria, Reporters Without Borders calls on Blue Coat to explain itself again. If the company again claims, as it did on 12 March, that it does not sell servers to Syria, it must explain their presence in Syria to the Syrian people and to the international community.
If, after an investigation into Blue Coat’s export methods, it turns out that the company did not take the necessary measures to prevent the export of its products to countries such as Syria, or if they were exported in violation of the laws in effect, Reporters Without Borders reserves the right to take this case before the appropriate courts, or the court of public opinion.
The activities of companies such as Blue Coat show that it is essential to regulate and monitor the export of surveillance products. For the past decade, Reporters Without Borders has been calling for sanctions against companies that collaborate with authoritarian regimes. By exporting surveillance technology, countries often contribute to major violations of media freedom.
Syria is one of the countries that are ranked as an Enemies of the Internet in the report released on 12 March.
See the report demonstrating the presence of Blue Coat servers in Syria on WeFightCensorship.org.