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Surveillance Capabilities

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In order to develop proper means for anonymity, one must estimate the technological capabilities of adversaries (typically corporations, criminals, repressive government). If you are not too technologically or scientifically educated, or if signal intelligence sounds somewhat mythical to you, then you will be rather challenged in trying to properly assess such capabilities, distinguishing facts from fantasy.

First, a simple overview. A highly technologically capable adversary (e.g., a military counter-intelligence unit) can:

  • intercept your internet traffic, including e-mail, instant messaging, VoIP, and Wi-Fi connections (though the latter doesn't directly involve ISPs)
  • intercept your phone and fax communications, including landlines, cell phones, satellite phones, and radio telephone extensions (the latter doesn't involve telecommunications providers ("telcos"))
  • associate your geographic location with a cell phone IMEI number or with a SIM card number
  • reliably associate your calls with your voice patterns (speaker recognition)
  • associate your geographic location with your digital financial transactions

This passive surveillance can be performed constantly and concurrently for a large number of people (who are not specifically suspected of anything), and all data gathered can be retained indefinitely. We see that the technological resources of a modern adversary are virtually unlimited, and any task that can be automated is implemented and deployed.

However, the non-technological resources of an adversary are definitely limited. The adversary cannot:

  • break modern encryption protocols
  • perform active surveillance on non-suspects (e.g., break into computers) -- the chances of being caught are too high.
  • have human officers or employees read or listen to large amounts of communication
  • recognize your face from a satellite (although UAVs are a different story)
  • have large quantities of qualified human resources.


Liberte Linux Philosophy page Copyright (C) 2013 Maxim Kammerer <mk at dee dot su>
Whonix Anonymity wiki page Copyright (C) 2013 - 2014 Patrick Schleizer <adrelanos@riseup.net>

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