April 19, 2014
A Visit To A Firm That Has Its Eye On You TooSunday, February 2, 2014
Snooping is for everyone, not just Big Bro
For The Herald
Pérez, the public relations manager, was most informative throughout my visit to Todo Se Sabe SA, even though his company is usually quite secretive about its operations. That’s contrary to its own name, which means, roughly, You Can’t Keep Anything Hidden.
“We call it Tosesa for short,” he said as he greeted me. “Our slogan is, ‘You do it, you say it, or you text it, we know about it and make sure everybody else knows it too’.” He smiled ingratiatingly. “We’re working on shortening that slogan a bit.”
“Thanks for receiving me,” I said. “I know you don’t normally welcome journalists.”
“Yes, but in your request for a meeting you sounded as if you not only understood what’s going on, but weren’t judgmental,” he replied. “Still, you only got half the picture. Not even the most interesting half.”
To step back a moment: it all started with the outrage among several governments when it was revealed that they had been spied on by the US. Then, as predictable, it emerged that many of them had been doing their own spying on others. And it wasn’t just the likes of China and Iran, but also Germany, Brazil, Australia...
When I found out that Tosesa, together with what I understood to be research partners abroad, was in the business of developing both hardware and software for all this spying, all I did was apply for the interview while asking, for starters, if it agreed with the following summary:
Rule 1: All countries spy on all other countries, friend and foe alike. Rule 2: The only countries that don’t are those that lack the technology to do so. Rule 3: The ability creates the desire. If the question is why, say, Mozambique would want to spy on Laos, supposing it can, the answer is precisely that — because it can.
“We definitely agree,” said Pérez. “And we’re proud to say we contribute to make it possible. I admit we’re not alone...”
“Yes,” I interrupted, “I found a list on the Internet of other outfits worldwide in this field.” I mentioned five or six. “Of course, the item said that they make products that violate individual rights.”
“We prefer to say our products help make more information available,” Pérez sniffed. “Yes, those names you mention are also respected members of the community. We work together, in a way.”
“Tosesa has research agreements with them?”
He gave me a pitying look. “Of course not. We hack them. Naturally, they hack us too.” Pause. “Anyway, spying by governments, companies, and hackers is old hat. Our eyes are on the future. We realized that the technology and computing power a government or a big company have today, tomorrow will be in everybody’s hands. And we, of course, want to help it happen.”
“Yes,” Pérez nodded. “Everybody will be able to maintain complete surveillance over everybody else!” His eyes were glowing. “It’ll be paradise!”
“But does everybody really want to know what everybody else is doing all the time?”
“You bet they do. And they want everybody to know what they themselves are doing, too. That’s what Twitter, Facebook, etc., are all about. Only, people lie on the social networks; instead, once we have all our apps and programmes ready and rolling, they’ll know the real truth about everybody. Forget ‘Big Brother is watching.’ Write down what will be Rule 4: EVERYBODY is watching!”
“Will there be no protection for those who want to retain a little privacy?”
“Oh, yes. We’re also developing all sorts of encryption programs that people will be needing.” He shot me an inquisitorial look. “Are you already protecting your metadata?”
I ignored that crack, because I thought I had detected a flaw in Tosesa’s business plan. “But aren’t you undercutting your own universal-surveillance future if you help people encrypt their activities?”
“Ha, ha, no, because we’re naturally also developing advanced anti-encryption programmes and apps that we’ll likewise sell. We cover all bases! And let me tell you, we’re far advanced.” He came conspiratorially nearer, and pointed at a secretary. “That’s Soledad. We’ve found out she’s having an affair with Juan Carlos in R&D — and two-timing him with Rogelio in tech support.”
“Don’t tell me you use your technology on one another right in this office too!”
Pérez gave me another of his pitying glances. “Could it be otherwise? See Fabián, at the second desk over there? Has six unpaid traffic tickets. Patricia there? Doesn’t care which TV celebrity is having a feud with which other one!”
I gasped at this, but Pérez continued relentlessly. “And that man who just passed by? One of my top assistants. I unearthed proof that he’s stealing from this company!”
“So why don’t you fire him?”
For the first time, Pérez looked discomfited. “I’m afraid,” he stammered, “of the dirt he may have on ME.”
Nicolás Meyer, who welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, is a Spanish-English-German translator.