Online censorship: US company Sandvine equips Russia with deep packet inspection

Online censorship: US company Sandvine equips Russia with deep packet inspection

Sandvine, a Canadian-American company owned by Silicon Valley investment firm Francisco Partners, has been providing deep packet inspection (DPI) systems to Russian telecommunications operators for years. According to critics, the network technology, also known as “Internet naked scanners”, deeply infringes on users’ basic rights and can be used for censorship.

Sandvine was founded in 2001 in Waterloo, Canada. The network supplier initially tried in vain for years to sell its own DPI systems to the leading telecommunications providers in Russia. Conditions from both the Canadian and Russian governments initially prevented a deal. In addition, potential customers wanted to use the technology to oversee the messaging service Telegram, which Sandvine was unable to do at the time.

The company was bought by Francisco Partners in 2017. Among other things, the investor owns parts of the Israeli NSO group, which programs the state Trojan Pegasus, which has been hailed as a “monster”. Francisco Partners added Sandvine with Procera Networks, another DPI marketer in its portfolio. It had already set foot in Russia in 2012 and has managed to install its equipment in telecommunications networks across the country.

Then, in 2018 at meetings and product demonstrations in Moscow, Sandvine representatives again promoted the benefits of Deep Packet Inspection, According to the US Financial Services Bloomberg report, So he explained to interested parties that it could block or slow access to certain websites, determine the whereabouts of certain people, and support local prosecutors. The news agency relied on company documents they were able to access.

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According to internal filings, Sandvine eventually struck deals to sell its Internet scanners to two telecom operators. These are Russia’s second largest mobile operator Megafon and the Russian government-controlled company Tele2 Russia.

A company spokesperson told Bloomberg that since Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, Sandvine has scaled back its own operations in Russia and halted all sales to the vast empire. Company equipment was only used for on-site billing and quality of service control.

Access providers are increasingly using DPI for traffic management, civil society organizations, scientists and companies in 15 countries complained in 2019. The technology can be used to screen data packets, discriminate against services, and spy on user behavior. Because domain names, web addresses and other Internet resources used may be subject to scrutiny, sensitive statements may be made about political and religious beliefs, sexual preferences or personal health.

Sandwine never agreed to provide Russia with censorship tools, the spokesman insisted. If a provider had attempted to reconfigure the technology for this purpose, it would have been considered abuse and the contract would have been terminated. However, when the offerings were launched in Russia, the organization’s technical director, Alexander Hwang, admitted to its internal ethics committee that it was unable to prevent customers from using web-blocking technology.

In the summer of 2020, Bloomberg reported that Belarus’ government used the Sandvine system to restrict access to outside news and social media sites during the controversial presidential election. After this the company severed ties with the country. A later analysis by Bloomberg showed that the Sandvine tool was used to block LGBTQ websites in Jordan, independent news sites in Egypt, and social media in Azerbaijan.

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Such deals by the company make it clear that US technology exports need to be monitored more closely, said Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia. The US Commerce Department recently passed a rule governing the export of DPI systems that could enable “large-scale government surveillance.” Last year, the European Union introduced stricter export rules for “dual-use” goods that, in principle, serve civilian and military purposes.

Civil Rights Organization Access Now Inspired Sandwine on Friday, “to immediately withdraw from Russia all technologies that may be used for censorship and surveillance”. It appealed to the US government to conduct a thorough investigation into the organization’s activities with human rights violations there and in other countries, and to enforce stricter export rules. The first companies to be held accountable are those that helped suppress critical voices.


(BME)

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