Russia: Govt allegedly acquired ‘advanced’ surveillance technologies to target citizens opposing war in Ukraine
In July 2023, The New York Times published a report revealing that Russian authorities have acquired an advanced array of surveillance technologies to monitor the online lives of citizens, targeting those opposing the war in Ukraine within its borders.
The report mentions that following the Ukraine invasion, there was an increased demand for surveillance tools by the government, leading to the expansion of Russia's surveillance industry, which involves tech contractors. The tools provided by these contractors have granted the police and Russia's Federal Security Service (F.S.B.) access to surveillance capabilities, enabling them to track activities on encrypted apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram, monitor phone locations, identify anonymous users on social media and gain unauthorized access to people's accounts. The report also highlights leaked files detailing attempts to sell these tools abroad.
The report exposes technology companies that provide digital surveillance tools, which complement Russian efforts to shape public opinion and suppress dissent. These companies include Citadel Group, MFI Soft, Vas Experts, and Protei. The New York Times reached out for comment to Citadel Group, Vas Experts, and Protei. Among them, only Vas Experts responded, stating that demand for its tools had “increased due to the complex geopolitical situation” and volume of threats within Russia.
Furthermore, the report features comments from digital messaging app companies such as Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp. They acknowledge that encryption may mask specific messages, but not the record of the exchange. However, they also mention the existence of features that could make it harder to identify and trace communication app traffic.
The report includes insights from digital experts and activists who raise concerns about these tools and the potential global human rights risks associated with their sales overseas.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited MFI Soft to respond to the allegations that the company allegedly supplies digital surveillance tools to the Russian government for the purpose of suppressing domestic opposition to the war in Ukraine, and for proliferating these tools across Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, with potential global consequences for privacy, freedom of expression, and other human rights. MFI Soft did not respond.
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