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Russia to monitor 'all communications' at Winter Olympics in Sochi
Exclusive: Investigation uncovers FSB surveillance system – branded 'Prism on steroids' – to listen to all athletes and visitors
- The Guardian,
Sunday 6 October 2013 15.31 BST
Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and surveillance in the history of the Games, documents shared with the Guardian show.
Russia's powerful FSB security service plans to ensure that no communication by competitors or spectators goes unmonitored during the event, according to a dossier compiled by a team of Russian investigative journalists looking into preparations for the 2014 Games.
But government procurement documents and tenders from Russian communication companies indicate that newly installed telephone and internet spying capabilities will give the FSB free rein to intercept any telephony or data traffic and even track the use of sensitive words or phrases mentioned in emails, webchats and on social media.
The journalists, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, who are experts on the Russian security services, collated dozens of open source technical documents published on the Zakupki government procurement agency website, as well as public records of government oversight agencies. They found that major amendments have been made to telephone and Wi-Fi networks in the Black Sea resort to ensure extensive and all-permeating monitoring and filtering of all traffic, using Sorm, Russia's system for intercepting phone and internet communications.
The Sorm system is being modernised across Russia, but particular attention has been paid to Sochi given the large number of foreign visitors expected next year. Technical specifications set out by the Russian state telecoms agency also show that a controversial technology known as deep packet inspection, which allows intelligence agencies to filter users by particular keywords, is being installed across Russia's networks, and is required to be compatible with the Sorm system.
Ron Deibert, a professor at the University of Toronto and director of Citizen Lab, which co-operated with the Sochi research, describes the Sorm amendments as "Prism on steroids", referring to the programme used by the NSA in the US and revealed to the Guardian by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. "The scope and scale of Russian surveillance are similar to the disclosures about the US programme but there are subtle differences to the regulations," says Deibert. "We know from Snowden's disclosures that many of the checks were weak or sidestepped in the US, but in the Russian system permanent access for Sorm is a requirement of building the infrastructure."
Soldatov and Borogan have discovered that the FSB has been working since 2010 to upgrade the Sorm system to ensure it can cope with the extra traffic during the Games. All telephone and ISP providers have to install Sorm boxes in their technology by law, and once installed, the FSB can access data without the provider ever knowing, meaning every phone call or internet communication can be logged. Although the FSB technically requires a warrant to intercept a communication, it is not obliged to show it to anyone.