/ 7 October 2013

Russia’s Sorm surveillance allows spying on Olympians

Sorm will give Russian security services free access to all phone and internet communications at the Olympic Games.
Sorm will give Russian security services free access to all phone and internet communications at the Olympic Games. (Gallo)

Russia's all-encompassing surveillance system will allow security services to listen in on athletes and visitors, security analysts said on Monday.

The surveillance system was first developed by the Soviet-era KGB, predecessor of the state security organisation FSB, in the mid-1980s and updated in recent years, said prominent security analyst Andrei Soldatov.

Dubbed Sorm, the system will give Russian security services free access to all phone and internet communications at the Olympic Games in February without the providers' knowledge, according to research by Soldatov and his colleague Irina Borogan.

Telecom providers are required to pay for the Sorm equipment and its installation, but law enforcement agencies will be able to wiretap without having to show providers court orders allowing the eavesdropping, the analysts said.

"Operators do not know what and when the FSB is monitoring," Soldatov told Agence France-Presse.

Citing research based on documents published by the Russian government procurement agency and other government records, the analysts said the authorities have been installing the surveillance devices in the Black Sea resort of Sochi since 2010.

Russia has pulled out all the stops to get the subtropic region ready for the Games, spending more than $50-billion in state and corporate money on infrastructure improvements including mobile networks.

"There is a promise that visitors will have access to the fastest wi-fi networks in Olympic history, for free," the researchers said on their website agentura.ru.

But at the same time, the analysts said, national telecom provider Rostelecom is installing DPI (deep packet inspection) systems on all its mobile networks, technology that will allow the FSB not only to monitor all traffic but also to filter it.

While many Olympic host countries take steps to monitor communications for security reasons, Russia will take surveillance to a new level, said Soldatov, adding the government will also deploy drones and sonars to detect submarines.

"The most unique feature of this system is its totality," said Soldatov, adding he was astonished to learn that the defence ministry bought the sonars especially for the Olympic Games.

Anti-gay rights
The Sochi Games has become a focal point for controversy, with activists calling for formal protests and boycotts, with some proposing that Russia be stripped of its role as Olympic host.

Singer Cher recently claimed to have rejected an invitation to perform at the Games in protest against anti-gay laws in Russia.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin installed various anti-gay laws in the country this year.

In June, police detained more than 20 gay rights activists involved in a "kissing protest" outside Parliament. Lawmakers were preparing to pass a Bill banning homosexual "propaganda".

The Bill is one of a series of socially conservative measures garnering support in the Kremlin-dominated Parliament during Putin's third term. The gay protesters were far outnumbered by around 200 anti-gay activists who surrounded them, chanting "Russia is not Sodom", singing Orthodox Christian prayers and crossing themselves.

They threw rotten eggs at the gay protesters. After scuffles in which one man was knocked to the ground and kicked by the anti-gay activists, police began detaining the gay protesters and bundling them into waiting buses.

Journalist and Putin critic Masha Gessen said she was among 24 people being taken to police stations. Moscow police said about 20 people were detained.

The State Duma, or lower house of parliament, was expected to pass the Bill later in the day, ignoring Western criticism that it curbs basic freedoms and concerns among activists that it is fuelling hate attacks on homosexuals.

The Bill would ban the spread of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors and impose heavy fines for violations. Activists say violence against homosexuals has increased since Putin returned to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister and that it is being fuelled by the Bill and other aspects of his conservative agenda.

It is unusual for Russian authorities to link crimes with homophobia, but investigators have said anti-gay hate was the motive in the brutal murders of two men in the past month, one in eastern Russia and one in the southern city of Volgograd. – AFP