Home Office to Host Controversial Surveillance Companies

This investigation reveals the controversial companies and potentially repressive technologies that are due to be on display at next month's Security & Policing event.
Samuel Woodhams

Key Findings

Two weeks ago, The Guardian reported that the NSO Group will be exhibiting at next month’s Security & Policing trade fair.

This report uncovers another nine controversial companies that are due to be attending the Home Office’s event.

It also finds a variety of companies that are openly marketing potentially repressive surveillance technologies on the event’s website, including IMSI catchers, social media monitoring tools and deep packet inspection probes.

Update: 04 March 2020 10:45 GMT Following the initial publication of this report, Hikvision, a company accused of abetting human rights violations in Xinjiang, has been removed from the event’s website. It is unclear whether this decision was made by the UK Home Office or the company itself.

Introduction

On the 3-5 March, the UK Home Office’s Joint Security & Resilience Centre will host the Security & Policing trade fair in Farnborough.

The event is marketed as a “global security event, offering a world-class opportunity to meet, network and discuss the latest advances in delivering national security and resilience with UK suppliers, colleagues and Government officials.”

It attracts visitors from government departments, security agencies and police forces from the UK and around the world. However, the general public are barred from attending.

Even a British politician, Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, has been denied entry to this year’s event.

The Home Office frequently invites foreign delegations to the event. In 2016, this included representatives from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Lebanon and Zambia, according to an FOI request filed by the Campaign Against Arms Trade.

On Thursday, The Guardian reported that the controversial Israeli spyware company, NSO Group, is due to be an exhibitor at this year’s event.

The company has faced multiple accusations that its invasive Pegasus spyware has been used to target human rights defenders and journalists around the world.

This report finds another nine companies due to be exhibiting that have faced accusations of threatening human rights around the world.

We also discovered a diverse group of companies openly marketing highly invasive technologies, including facial recognition technology, communication interception applications and covert audio/video surveillance solutions.

Although the exhibition list has now been taking offline, you can still access the original list of companies due to attend.

By playing host to these companies at a closed event, the UK Home Office is playing an important role in the secretive spread of potentially repressive technologies in the UK and abroad.

Company Analysis

The NSO Group is not the only controversial company due to be attending this year’s Security & Policing Event.

Of the 300 companies due to be exhibiting, we discovered nine other surveillance manufacturers that have previously been accused of threatening human rights around the world.

Companies include:

Hikvision

Hikvision is the “world’s leading provider of innovative video surveillance products and solutions,” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.

Notable Products:

  • Facial Recognition Cameras
  • CCTV Cameras
  • ANPR Technology

The company, which is partially state-owned, has headquarters in Hangzhou, China, and operates globally with research and development centres in Montreal, California, Beijing and London.

It offers a comprehensive “Safe City” solution that incorporates facial recognition cameras, Automatic Number Plate Registration (ANPR) technology and UAV devices.

The company has previously sold its surveillance cameras to British police forces, hospitals, universities, schools and the parliamentary estate, according to an article by The Intercept

This January, South Australia’s health department removed CCTV cameras made by the company due to security concerns, according to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Hikvision has also been accused of providing its surveillance equipment to authorities in Xinjiang, northwestern China, where a complex web of surveillance technologies has been used to assist the forced arbitrary detention of an estimated one million Turkic Muslims.

According to a report by the The Financial Times, the company sold authorities nearly 1,000 facial recognition cameras to be placed at mosques in the region.

In a report by IPVM, the company was also accused of openly marketing AI enabled cameras that were allegedly capable of automatically identifying Uyghurs.

The company declined to comment on the report and swiftly removed the webpage after IPVM inquired about the issue, according to the article.

In October 2019, the Trump administration placed Hikvision on the US Industry and Security Bureau’s ‘Entity List’ which greatly restricts American companies’ ability to trade with the company.

According to the Bureau, the Hangzhou-based security firm was added to the list because it was “determined by the U.S. Government to be acting contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The company has denied any wrongdoing in the region, telling the The Global Times that: “We have never done any inappropriate actions in Xinjiang.”

AnyVision

AnyVision specialises in artificial intelligence and surveillance solutions for private companies and law enforcement agencies.

It is headquartered in Israel and has offices in Singapore, Mexico, Brazil, the US and UK.

Notable Products:

  • Facial Recognition Cameras
  • Access Management Solutions

AnyVision offers “real-world application of face, body and object recognition with unparalleled accuracy and technology,” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.

A blog post on their website declares that: “The ethical use of Artificial Intelligence sits at the heart of everything we do at AnyVision.”

However, an investigative report by NBC in October 2019 found that the company had provided Israeli forces with technology that had been used as part of a covert surveillance programme targeting Palestinians in the occupied territories.

“According to five sources familiar with the matter, AnyVision’s technology powers a secret military surveillance project throughout the West Bank.” NBC News

AnyVision disputed claims made in the article and the company’s CEO, Eylon Etshtein, initially threatened to sue NBC, allegedly telling reporters that AnyVision was the “most ethical company known to man.”

The company later revised this position and stated that: “As a private company we are not in a position to speak on behalf of any country, company or institution.”

However, in August 2019, the company did confirm that its technology is being used by the Israeli military at border crossing checkpoints.

Microsoft, who had provided funding to AnyVision, subsequently launched an audit of the facial recognition company to determine whether it had been acting in compliance with Microsoft’s ethical principles on biometric technologies.

The results of the audit are not currently publicly available.

RCS SpA

RCS is a company based in Italy that specialises in telecommunications monitoring and gathering applications.

Notable Products:

  • Communication Interception Applications
  • Social Network Analysis Tools

According to the company’s listing on the event’s website, it offers law enforcement agencies “Advanced IP Decoding and Metadata Extraction” technologies, as well as “Network Monitoring” and “Network Probe” solutions.

Privacy International has accused the company of being instrumental in constructing a repressive nationwide communications monitoring system in Syria from 2007 to 2012.

“Western businesses including RCS SpA (Italy) and VASTech (South Africa) were important contributors to Syria’s repressive surveillance state.” Privacy International

Employees from the company have denied the allegations and accused Privacy International’s article of including “numerous falsehoods.”

The company’s website currently promotes its ‘MIT03 Monitoring Suite’ that “retrieves, decodes, processes and stores content coming from virtually any kind of communication network.”

Additionally, it lists “social network analysis tools,” “active intrusion systems (Trojans)” and “WiFi catchers,” as currently available products.

The latest Freedom on the Net report by Freedom House identified the rise of social media monitoring solutions as a key development in the decline of internet freedoms in 2019.

“The booming commercial market for social media surveillance has lowered the cost of entry not only for the security services of dictatorships, but also for national and local law enforcement agencies in democracies, where it is being used with little oversight or accountability.” Freedom House

EXFO Homeland Security

EXFO Homeland Security is a tactical communication intelligence company with offices around the world, including in China and the UK.

Notable Products:

  • Communication Interception Applications
  • UAV / Counter-UAV Technology

It “provides covert solutions for mobile phone interrogation, direction finding, cellular/WiFi grabbing and network analysis,” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.

The company faced controversy in 2018 after Privacy International obtained a brochure for the company’s ‘NetHawk’ product.

The brochure markets the product – which is a type of IMSI catcher — as being capable of “collecting mobile phone information directly and unnoticeably from the air enabling monitoring the presence and activities of the mobiles in that location.”

It can also conduct “direction finding of the target mobile phones [and] interception of the calls and SMSs,” according to the brochure.

IMSI catchers are a type of eavesdropping device that spoof a mobile tower and are considered a type of man-in-the-middle attack.

The devices have received sustained criticism from civil society organisations due to their ability to secretively and indiscriminately monitor users. Some versions of the technology can also intercept and divert text messages sent to a target’s device.

According to Privacy International: “IMSI catchers interfere with a range of human rights, including the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.”

EXFO Homeland Security has also been accused of previously selling this invasive technology to a variety of regimes that have been accused of using surveillance technologies to target human rights defenders and journalists.

“EXFO licenses include exports to Bosnia, Oman, Indonesia, Mexico, Serbia, Morocco, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and Macedonia.” Vice

Several of the countries listed above are also thought to have deployed NSO’s Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Citizen Lab.

According to the company’s website: “EXFO and our affiliates aim for the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all of our activities.”

NEC

NEC is a Japanese company with offices around the world. They specialise in facial recognition software, data analytics and cyber security solutions.

Notable Products:

  • Surveillance Cameras
  • Facial Recognition Cameras
  • Predictive Identification Systems

On January 24, the UK’s Metropolitan Police Service announced that they will begin using Live Facial Recognition (LFR) technology acquired from NEC in the capital.

The announcement came just a week after the European Commission proposed to ban the technology due to a lack of regulatory frameworks.

According to the company’s website, its NeoFace Watch solution “outperforms all other face recognition systems in matching accuracy.”

The company had already provided the South Wales Police with the technology to be used at Cardiff airport and various sporting stadiums.

However, questions remain about the efficacy of the system. According to a report by The Guardian, “During 55 hours of deployment the system flagged up 2,900 potential matches of which 2,755 were false positives.”

The London-based NGO, Big Brother Watch, also recently claimed that while deployed in Stratford, the technology had a 100% misidentification rate.

Multiple studies have also shown that facial recognition algorithms often contain racial and gender biases.

“Facial recognition has dangerous inaccuracies, particularly for ethnic minorities, women and older people […] the British public are effectively being used as guinea pigs in a dystopian mass surveillance experiment.” Silkie Carlo, Big Brother Watch

There are considerable concerns that by deciding to use live facial recognition capabilities, the Metropolitan Police are normalising the technology which may lead to a rapid increase in the number of police forces in the UK and abroad using it.

CellXion

CellXion is a British company that specialises in “cellular intelligence gathering and geo-location tools,” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.

Notable Products:

  • IMSI Catchers

The company is currently promoting their ‘Quad Modem Telemetry System VPN Platform’on their website. The technology can be used for the “backhaul of high definition video and other surveillance traffic,” “remote monitoring,” “vehicle tracking and monitoring” and “as a secure communication tool.”

In 2016, a report by the Bristol Cable found that the company was an important player in the sale of IMSI catchers and other Covert Communications Data Capture (CCDC) technologies around the UK.

This reportedly included a £1 million contract with the Metropolitan Police and a £100,000 contract with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary.

Police forces around the country have proved obstructive when asked to clarify their usage of the devices and the legality of the technology remains contested.

The Covert Technology Suppliers Forum

The Covert Technology Suppliers Forum represents 45 organisations that specialise in covert detection, interception, surveillance and counter measures.

Notable Members:

  • Gamma Group
  • Domo Tactical Communications
  • EXFO Homeland Security

According to the group’s listing on the event’s website, it “works collaboratively and understands well the capabilities within its membership, so can assist you in refining your search for specific products and services.”

Several of companies represented by the Forum have faced accusations that their technologies have been used to enable human rights abuses around the world.

Some of the group’s members, including EXFO Homeland Security, have their own stalls booked for this year’s event. Although others do not, the Covert Technology Suppliers Forum will ensure that they are represented in some capacity.

According to the group’s website, Gamma Group is “an international manufacturer of surveillance & monitoring systems with technical and sales offices in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa” and a member of the Forum.

The company has been accused by several human rights organisations of distributing the targeted and highly invasive FinFisher spyware to undemocratic regimes around the world, targeting journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians.

The spyware is reportedly capable of bypassing antivirus systems, logging the keystrokes of its target and can even access their microphone and camera remotely.

According to a report by Citizen Lab, the spyware was used in Bahrain to monitor activists, opposition leaders, journalists and law firms.

The report also found that FinFisher had been used track Ethiopian dissidents in the UK and US.

Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights defender from the UAE, was also targeted with the spyware, according to Amnesty International. In 2018, he was also targeted by the NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to the NGO.

According to Gamma Group’s website, it has been working with government agencies since the 1990s and has offices in “Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.”

Domo Tactical Communications (DTC) are also a member of the Forum and will be exhibiting their products at their own stall, according to the event’s website.

The UK-based company specialises in surveillance and communication technologies and offers a range of covert audio/visual surveillance solutions.

In 2016, Motherboard listed DTC as one of the companies that had applied for exportation licenses for telecommunications interception devices.

According to the company’s website, they still offer ‘Cellular Solutions’ that have “geo-locating capabilities” and can be used to “covertly analyze a cellular telecom network and remotely monitor cellular equipment connecting to that network.”

BAE Systems Applied Intelligence

BAE Systems is Britain’s biggest arms company with headquarters in London. It offers a wide range of cybersecurity and lawful interception products.

It reportedly employs over 4,200 people in 18 countries, according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.

Notable Products:

  • Communication Interception Tools
  • Data Retention Solutions

A 2017 investigative report by the BBC and a Danish newspaper found that a subsidiary of the company had been selling internet surveillance tools to the government of the United Arab Emirates since 2014.

According to an article by The Intercept the tools sold were capable of “mapping a target’s social networks and extracting personal information and communications from devices including voice recordings, video, messages, and attachments.”

The subsidiary had previously been accused of selling surveillance tools to Saudi Arabia and the Tunisian regime, prior to the Arab Spring uprisings.

BAE has also faced criticism for its role in supplying munitions during the ongoing war in Yemen.

In December 2019, a group of human rights organisations accused the company of being party to alleged war crims in the conflict, filing a complaint with the ICC.

In response to the BBC’s investigation regarding the sale of surveillance equipment to the UAE, the company responded: “It is against our policy to comment on contracts with specific countries or customers. BAE Systems works for a number of organizations around the world, within the regulatory frameworks of all relevant countries and within our own responsible trading principles.”

NeoSoft

NeoSoft is a Swiss company that produces a wide range of mobile communication products.

Notable Products:

  • IMSI Catchers
  • Communication Interception Tools

According to the company’s listing on the Security and Policing event’s website, the company offers “Wi-Fi Monitoring” solutions, a “GSM/UMTS/LTE Active Monitoring” solution, an “IMSI Catcher with Public Number detection” and a “WiFi jamming solution.”

In 2014, Privacy International accused the company of attempting to sell its mobile monitoring solutions to Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a unit of the Bangladesh Police force that is “implicated in serious human rights violations,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Following the release of the report, NeoSoft was referred for prosecution for failing to comply with export licensing regulations and “although the prosecution was eventually abandoned, the proposed export to the RAB was halted,” according to Privacy International.

The company now makes an explicit statement on their website that: “All our security solutions are designed for authorized government law enforcement agencies only and are subject to Swiss export control”

Technology Analysis

As well as the controversial companies listed above, our report has found evidence that a wide range of lesser known companies are also due to exhibit potentially repressive technologies at this year’s Security & Policing Event.

Facial Recognition Technology

There are a host of companies due to be exhibiting at this year’s event that will be marketing their facial recognition capabilities.

Companies Include:

  • Genetec
  • Digital Barriers
  • Tensor PLC

Genetec, which claims to have sold its equipment in 149 countries, has partnered with the Russian company, NtechLab, which created the controversial FindFace App.

According to Genetec’s website, “FindFace Security is an intelligent video analytics based on cutting-edge face recognition technology.”

The FindFace software was initially released in Russia in 2014 as an app which allowed users to match anyone in a picture to their profile on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VK.

According to an article in The Verge, “it was used to dox and harass sex workers, and NtechLab eventually shut it down in favor of enterprise and government work.”

Genetec does not reference FindFace or NtechLab on its listing on the event’s website.

Digital Barriers, a UK-based company, offers mobile facial recognition capabilities that allows users to “Stream live and uninterrupted video from bodycams and mobile devices with real-time facial recognition,” according the the company’s listing on the event’s website.

Keywave Products, an American company, is set to market its wide range of tools, including “facial recognition, officer safety, visible light audio communications, and more” at the event.

Tensor PLC is a British company that develops and sells access control and entry systems, as well as “ANPR and facial recognition systems” and has over 3,000 current customers, according to their listing on the event’s website.

That facial recognition capabilities are being developed and sold by such a wide range of companies is likely to drive down prices further and accelerate the technology’s adoption in the UK and abroad.

However, many civil society organisations have argued that these sophisticated technologies pose a substantial threat to individuals’ freedom of expression, right to privacy and freedom of association.

In response, several cities in the US have already moved to ban the technology.

“If you’re worried about how facial recognition technology is being used, you should be. And things are about to get a lot scarier unless new regulation is put in place.” Human Rights Watch

Covert Audio/Visual Surveillance

Covert audio and video surveillance solutions appear frequently across the event’s website, with companies from around the world due to market their secretive products.

Companies Include

  • Pro4Tech
  • Special Services Group

Pro4Tech is an Israeli company that specialises in undercover surveillance solutions. At this year’s event, they will be launching ‘Musa’ a new “4G LTE Wireless All-in-One sensors module.”

According to a report by Haaretz, in 2015 the company was found to be selling hidden cameras disguised as everyday objects including a “fake sprinkler, a fake soda can, a real pen, a netcktie and a coffee cup that contains a compartment for hot coffee.”

The Special Services Group, an American surveillance company, was recently featured in a Vice article that found the company to be selling cameras hidden in tombstones, vacuum cleaners and child carseats.

According to the company’s listing on the Security & Policing website, it “provides technical solutions in audio, video and tracking for law enforcement and military customers worldwide.”

Although these devices may seem innocuous, some have argued that they threaten individuals’ right to privacy – particularly if obtained by private actors and unaccountable bodies.

As Freddy Martinez, an analyst from Open The Government told Vice: “I think one of the biggest concerns I have is about the cost/size/capabilities of these devices. They keep getting cheaper, smaller and more capable all the time, and it’s unlikely that only law enforcement will be the only actors using them.”

Communications Interception Applications

There is a wide range of communications interception applications due to be exhibited at next month’s event, including IMSI Catchers and deep packet inspection probes.

Companies Include:

  • Reptile Limited
  • Area Systems UK

According to Reptile Limited’s website, they currently offer a series of “Covert Intercept Solutions.”

This includes, ‘The Hornet’ which can reportedly “monitor, intercept, relay and disrupt Wi-Fi traffic.” They also offer a compact, mobile version of the device and an NFC catcher.

The company is based in Hampshire, UK, and according to its listing on the event’s website, “is a discreet Cyber Intelligence company at the forefront of developments in Cyber Security and communications-related Intelligence gathering.”

Area Systems have offices in the UK and Italy. The company offers law enforcement agencies “solutions for Lawful Interception, Data Retention, [and] Cybercrime investigations” according to the company’s listing on the event’s website.

On the company’s website, it lists an ‘MCR Wi-Fi Catcher’ solution which can “track and highlight a target’s movements and behavioral patterns,” as well as an ‘MCR Captor’ which offers “passive and DPI network monitoring.”

Deep packet inspection (DPI) can be used for perfectly legitimate purposes. However it has also been used around the world by various regimes to intercept and monitor web traffic.

“Much like other forms of surveillance, DPI threatens the sense that the web is a space where people can engage freely with a wide range of people and services.” The Centre for Internet & Society

Social Media Monitoring Tools

Social media monitoring tools have spread rapidly in the past several years. According to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report, 40 out of the 65 countries investigated had social media monitoring programs.

Companies Include:

  • IPS SpA
  • Area Systems UK

According to Area System’s listing on the event’s website, the company also offers “Darknet and Social Media monitoring” solutions. However, they do not reference this capability on their website.

IPS SpA is an Italian company that, according to its listing on the event’s website, sells “Social Media and Open Source Intelligence with Virtual Humint features.” Huminit is short-hand for human intelligence.

On the company’s website, it markets its “Unconventional IP Intelligence” solution which includes “IP Monitoring with Depp Packet Inspection systems and Social Network analsysis.”

According to its promotional material, this combination of tools “will help to improve the visibility with the aim to identify, prevent, and neutralize the threats that come from ever channel (Web, Deep and Dark Web, Social Media, Forums, etc.)”

In certain contexts, this technology has the potential to radically undermine democratic processes and individuals’ freedoms, according to Freedom House.

“Social media monitoring designed to quell mobilization and identify protesters hinders the public’s ability to use online tools to associate and assemble peacefully.” Freedom House

Conclusion

David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, has recently called for a global moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance equipment.

Instead, however, the private surveillance industry appears to be flourishing and continues to receive the tacit support of the UK Government.

This report has documented the pivotal role that the UK Home Office continues to play in the global diffusion of surveillance technologies in the UK and abroad.

Moreover, it demonstrates that although the NSO Group are an important actor within this dynamic, they are by no means the only company involved in the creation of potentially repressive technologies.

The increasing sophistication of surveillance technologies, as well as the opaque ways in which they are created, sold and deployed, continues to raise significant human rights concerns.

Without meaningful safeguards, regulations and increased transparency from all those involved, there is a genuine risk that events such as these will facilitate further human rights violations around the world.

Supporting Documents

View the websites of the companies mentioned in this report and the listings from event’s website by downloading this PDF or accessing this Google Sheet.

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