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Article

1 Dec 2020

Author:
Thomas Brewster, Forbes

Report suggests 25 countries bought a surveillance tool that can find anyone by their telephone number

A surveillance technology that can identify the location of a phone anywhere in the world in just seconds with only a telephone number has been detected in 25 countries, some with chequered records on human rights, according to research released Tuesday.

The tech was supplied by the Israeli business Circles, claimed Citizen Lab... Circles is a sister company of NSO Group, an iPhone and Android spyware developer that is currently being sued by Facebook over attacks on the WhatsApp accounts of 1,400 users and has been criticized for selling to nations who went on to spy on activists, journalists and other citizens.

... The technique used by the Circles snooping tech is known as Signaling System 7 (SS7) exploitation, a powerful yet difficult-to-detect tool in government spy arsenals... [O]ne of the main selling points of the Circles tool was that it didn’t need cooperation from a telecoms company. If used by countries with lax rule of law and human rights controls, it could help repressive government surveillance agencies track targets across borders, without the need for a warrant, Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak warned.

... An NSO spokesperson gave Forbes a joint NSO and Circles response, stating: “NSO and Circles are separate companies within the same corporate family, both of which lead their industries in a commitment to ethical business and adhere to strict laws and regulations in every market in which they operate. As we have previously stated, Circles is involved in search and rescue and tactical geolocation technology."

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