How does a state spy on citizens?
On the air of radio station “Echo Moscow”, Gennady Gudkov, the colonel of the Federal Security Service of Russia shared his ideas on how a state spies upon its citizens. Laboratory Kaspersky recently published a report about finding a large server grouping which might be connected with the National Security Agency of the USA. This grouping implemented software tracking tools on computer hard drives with the help of malware. Russian servers, including government ones, suffered from that attack. The report raised multiple discussions and led to the interview with Gennady Gudkov. We chose the most important statements and gave them below.
– Talking about Russia, are special services concerned about an idea of spying on citizens?
– First of all, we should not mix two aspects of surveillance. There is an external surveillance which is carried out mostly by great states having geopolitical interests, for example the USA, Russia, England, France, Germany, and China. And there is an internal surveillance aiming at national security interests.
Nowadays, NSA and other special security agencies control a vast amount of radio and other electromagnetic signals – they are gathered, copied and deciphered and it helps guarding peace. When we talk about the Kaspersky incident, I have already warned that it may happen. Moreover, in the past I and deputy Khinstein fought for passing an amendment which would prohibit using foreign software on our strategic points. Unfortunately, the import lobby won at that time, although the struggle was serious. Then we stated that only one program code given by “Microsoft” consists of 5 million commands. Only a couple of extra commands can lead to computer network failure. Even unintentional errors in software result in computers fritzing and having a computer hung is deadly for example in case of an air attack. We put aside the outer aspect – we warned about this danger multiple times but the government shows no reaction; rather, the interest of import lobbyists turned out to be more powerful, meaning that money prevails over common sense and national security.
Now let us consider wiretapping citizens. In democratic countries collection of information is not punishable but its misuse can be penalized. Let us recall the USA where the Patriot Act was signed into law opening up a chaotic door of public wiretapping. By the way, it will be revised soon and I think such powers will not be prolonged. In Western countries there is a mechanism of restrictions and control, but in Russia, surveillance activity is completely unchecked. FSS, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigative Committee – they all have their own system of wiretapping and this process is monitored only intradepartmentally.
And what happens? Wiretapped objects are mainly oppositionists, the state protects its power and not human rights. That is why in Moscow and other regions are founded special departments with the best operational staff; they are engaged in cases of members of the opposition and use everything that can be used.
All these illusions, like – Skype is protected, there are codes – all of it is bullshit. Technology develops so fast that all remarkable inventions exist in mode of secrecy for the first month, then special security agencies find ways of cracking and controlling.
– What percentage of citizens are spied upon?
5%, maybe even less, I think 1-2%, here are included: oppositionists, members of criminal groups and gangs. Not more than 20,000-40,000 people in Russia are spied upon. Because it is expensive. Despite the fact that nowadays most actions are fulfilled by a computer, human factor is also very important. Because information needs to be analyzed and then reported to superior. You should understand that current possibilities make possible tracing your life for the last 5-6 years – all correspondence and phone conversations are recorded automatically. But legal enforcement agencies must have some interest in you, at least if you have funds which can be marketed by the state. If you have nothing, if you are not a member of the opposition or a gang, you are free to sleep calmly – LEAs are not up to you.
If our state was legal and democratic, I would not mind being spied upon. We do not differ from the Western counties – surveillance works everywhere. But they do not have information leaks because it is punishable. Russians are absolutely unprotected because the government is assigned to certain groups of people and they protect not country or people or Motherland, but primarily themselves. And when they possess data on their political opponents or simply on unwanted people, it can be used anyhow. Your intimate relations, conflicts with friends, business information – can be used for blackmailing.
I learned how it works in the USA. The system of the Parliament control, Congress sub commissions, any data including undercover can be acquired and checked by commissions, an independent prosecutor or a judge. We have nothing of the abovementioned which results in overall arbitrariness. There are no mechanisms protecting citizens from surveillance and subsequent use of information has nothing to do with state security, combating crimes, protecting rights and freedoms.