Surveillance companies can use your iPhone to take photos of you and your surroundings without your knowledge, said a representative from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at a panel chaired by Julian Assange™ today.
Companies also sell products that will let them change the messages you write, track your location and nick your email contacts, claimed speakers on the panel that included representatives from Privacy International and the aforementioned bureau.
The privacy campaigners, speaking in London, pulled out some of the most sensational revelations in the 287 documents about the international surveillance industry published today by WikiLeaks (but you read it here first). The documents cover a total of 160 companies in 25 countries.
"Who here has an iPhone, who has a BlackBerry, who uses Gmail?" Assange asked. "Well you're all screwed," he continued, "the reality is that intelligence operations are selling right now mass surveillance systems for all those products".
Speaking on the panel, Pratap Chatterjee of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (which works out of City University, but is an independent organisation) said that your phone could be used to record and send information about you even when it is in stand-by mode. That data included location, recordings of your conversations and even photographs. This spy software could run on iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows mobile kit.
Stefania Maurizi, a journalist from Italy's weekly news magazine L'Espresso, showed documents that suggested that software products could not only read emails and text messages sent from spied-on phones, but could actually fake new ones or alter the text of messages sent.
As The Reg has already discussed, all these software products are commercially available, and sold seemingly without any regulation.
Maurizi and N Ram, editor-in-chief of India's The Hindu newspaper (speaking over a Skype connection) said that they were particularly worried by the lack of a legal framework and the absence of checks and balances in the surveillance system.
Steven Murdoch of Cambridge Security group said such software was being made by British companies including ones based in Surrey and Oxford.
He added that even lawful interception was no longer targeted and backed up by suspicions. "We're seeing increasingly wholesale monitoring of entire populations with no suspicion of wrongdoing – the data is being monitored and stored in the hope that it might one day be useful."
"Without controls on this industry, the threat that surveillance poses to freedom on expression and human rights in general is only going to increase." ®