Edward Snowden fled to Russia, but the former Communist country is employing many of the same tactics used by the United States’ Natural Security Agency, the organization whose classified secrets he leaked to the press. According an article published by The Guardian, the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi will be heavily monitored by Russian government agencies. The Federal Security Service (FSB) has installed telephone and Internet surveillance systems (called SORM) in Sochi and will use them to intercept all traffic of their choice. Furthermore, the FSB will track key words sent in emails and social media. The Los Angeles Times has reported that hundreds of drones and thousands of cameras will be also be used during the Winter Olympics.
SORM incorporates a type of technology called deep packet inspection, which allows the FSB to filter users of certain keywords. For instance, the FSB can easily find out everyone who using the word “Sochi” on social media or email in a particular region and then track the filtered users more thoroughly.
Photo of FSB headquarters courtesy of Flickr user Argenberg (Vyacheslav Argenberg)
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the surveillance is that it is significantly more invasive than that done by the American NSA. SORM is already embedded in all the infrastructure, giving government organizations permanent access to information. The FSB’s job is made much simpler by the fact that smartphone use has risen dramatically in the past few years, allowing for easier tracking. The U.S. State Department even issued a statement warning American business travelers going to the Olympics that any trade secrets or other confidential information conveyed by phone or Internet may be compromised. Travelers are urged to go through unusually thorough steps to keep their information private, such as removing batteries from their phones when they are not using them.
I believe that the Russia’s security measures are unnecessary and certainly infringing on individual rights. A large event like the Olympics certainly warrants the need for tight security, but such expansive surveillance tactics are on the whole not needed. Similar events, like the Super Bowl and World Cup, draw thousands of fans but local governments do not resort to such security measures like the FSB has.
I also think that the surveillance techniques can severely impact foreign individuals coming to watch the Olympics. This issue reminds me of Pearson’s article “Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued”. Individuals who are used to posting certain ways on social media might not be aware of Russian laws regarding media and privacy and could even be prosecuted. Those posting about homosexuality and gay rights can be especially adversely affected. It is illegal in Russia to promote LGBT equality in public, and foreigners could be posting in Sochi about gay rights and not even know they might be breaking the law.
Journalists could also definitely be hurt by the surveillance techniques. In their home countries, many journalists may not use pseudonyms and may regularly write about sensitive issues without fear of repercussion. If they act the same way in Sochi, their communication might be intercepted and they may be harassed.
In conclusion, I think that the FSB’s tactics are too extreme and encroaching on personal rights. I believe that physical precautions, such as baggage searches, are well within the bounds of reason and should be wholeheartedly enforced at the Winter Olympics. Limited surveillance should be used, and specific individuals should only be targeted only if they are known to be criminals or are on government watch lists.
For more information regarding SORM, read this article published by Privacy International.
For more information regarding LBGT rights in Russia, read this article by Kathy Lally published in the Washington Post.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr user failing_angel (B)