Wired News sent Thomas Greene to the ISS World Conference, a no-press-allowed conference for companies that sell wiretapping equipment to law enforcement, ISPs, telcos, and repressive governments. These super-s33kr1t spies blabbed everything in the bar, let Greene slip into the conference spaces and eavesdrop, and slipped him a copy of the conference CD to copy to his laptop.
Greene recounts some fascinating discussions he held with attendees about the ethics of selling snooping technologies to the kinds of governments that imprison and torture dissidents. In one case, he had a remarkable conversation with an attendee who assured him that the Bush administration was less conscientious of human rights than foreign dictators:
"Well, it's quite an issue," I said. "This is the equipment of totalitarianism, and the only things that can keep a population safe are decent law and proper oversight. I want to know what they think when they learn that China, or Syria, or Zimbabwe is getting their hands on it."
"You really need to educate yourself," he insisted. "Do you think this stuff doesn't happen in the West? Let me tell you something. I sell this equipment all over the world, especially in the Middle East. I deal with buyers from Qatar, and I get more concern about proper legal procedure from them than I get in the USA."
"Well, perhaps the Qataris are conscientious," I said, "and I'm prepared to take your word on that, but there are seriously oppressive governments out there itching to get hold of this stuff."
He sneered again. "Do you think for a minute that Bush would let legal issues stop him from doing surveillance? He's got to prevent a terrorist attack that everyone knows is coming. He'll do absolutely anything he thinks is going to work. And so would you. So why are you bothering these guys?"