Wikileaks 2 — Indian agencies after Italian firm’s spyware

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With technical surveillance becoming a major tool in collecting intelligence inputs, Indian agencies and state police forces queued up before Italian firm Hacking Team to buy for top-end spying equipment to track mobile phone and computers.

In the case of West Bengal and Andhra Police, emails made public by Wikileaks showed, their own officers approached the controversial firm Hacking Team that faced the ire of transparency activists for selling spyware to countries where democracy was not practised. In other cases, some Indian-based firms did the negotiations.

In almost all the cases, the forces were looking for buying ‘Galileo’, a top-end spying software that enables forces to intercept all sort of data from both mobile phones and computers. The FBI was one of the biggest buyer for Hacking Team and earlier leaks from the whistleblower website had revealed the way it was doing business.

One of emails, as latest as June 12 this year, showed that Andhra Pradesh Police was looking at cellular interception hardware solutions urgently. Though earlier, its officers had approached the firm, this time negotiations were done by a private firm. The deal could be of roughly between USD 1.2 million (around 7.8 crore), according to the mails.

In another case, a private firm Tital Overseas Corporation Pvt Ltd told Maharashtra Police officials that ‘Galileo’ would meet their requirements to monitor suspects.

The emails also showed that many of them were clueless about surveillance systems. They were either ignorant about Hacking Team product and some of them were told about it by their colleagues

The letter on behalf of Gujarat Police by a private firm was an example. In letter, the official of private firm Edotservices that wrote on behalf of the state police, said its client had asked us about 24×7 surveillance technology on targeted suspects.

“We had no idea of how to get the correct answer delivered to the question. And then one of my friend told me about your team and services, which you deliver to global law enforcement agencies. In order to get there Job done, what we can to do further to help my state law enforcement and police,” the email read. It goes on to suggest that “our state Govt finds it hard to get hold of criminals”.

Delhi-based Span Telecom approached Hacking Team on behalf of Army Signals, which was apparently looking for a system that could “infect any mobile phone to track the location of the subscriber to an accuracy of at least 50 metre”.

The emails also showed that the India representatives of the company held discussions with police units of several states, including Karnataka Police’s intelligence wing, Cabinet Secretariat, Delhi Police’s Special Branch and Economic Offence Wing and Mumbai Police’s  Anti Terrorist Squad in January last year. However, according to emails, top officials of Hacking Team were not convinced that their representatives did meet them.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on July 12, 2015)

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