The Brazilian government started an inquiry into whether telecommunications companies operating in Brazil cooperated with the US as part of a spying program that has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations. Anatel, the government agency that regulates the telecom sector in Brazil, said in a note that it’s working with federal police and other government agencies on the investigation.
The American NSA (National Security Agency) has partnerships with major U.S. Internet companies. The British newspaper The Guardian reported that the Prism software allows the NSA access to emails, online chats and voice calls from users of the services of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Yahoo! and PalTalk.
The O Globo newspaper reported this weekend that information released by NSA leaker Edward Snowden showed Brazil is the top target in Latin America for the National Security Agency’s massive intelligence-gathering effort aimed at monitoring communications around the world.
“It’s worth clarifying that the confidentiality of data and telephone communications is a right guaranteed by the constitution, by our laws and by Anatel’s regulations,” the Brazilian regulator said in a note posted on its website. “Its violation is punishable in civil, criminal and administrative realms.”
The O Globo article said the NSA collected the data through an association between US and Brazilian telecommunications companies. It said it could not verify which Brazilian companies were involved or if they were aware their links were being used to collect the data.
Communications Minister Paulo Bernardo told reporters in Brasília that he “has no doubt whatsoever” Brazilian citizens and institutions were spied upon.
“Even the European Parliament was monitored — you think that we weren’t?” he said. “We have to verify the circumstances in which this occurred, the exact way and when.”
The O Globo article said that “Brazil, with extensive digitalized public and private networks operated by large telecommunications and Internet companies, appears to stand out on maps of the US agency as a priority target for telephony and data traffic, alongside nations such as China, Russia and Pakistan.”
The report did not describe the sort of data collected, but the US programs appear to gather what is called metadata: logs of message times, addresses and other information rather than the content of the messages.
US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro and originally broke the Snowden story in the Britain-based Guardian newspaper, where he writes a regularly blog, co-authored the Sunday report in O Globo.
In an interview with the Globo TV network, Greenwald said the Snowden documents show that the US was using Brazil as a “bridge” to gather data on better-protected states where it cannot gain direct access, but whose traffic may pass through Brazil.
“We don’t have access to China’s system, but we have access to Brazil’s system,” Greenwald said, speaking Portuguese. “So, we collect the traffic in Brazil not because we want to know what one Brazilian is saying to another Brazilian, but because we want to know what someone in China is saying to somebody in Iran, for example.”
On Monday, O Globo reported that the US had a significant base in Brasília for the collection of intercepted global satellite communications until at least 2002, based upon the Snowden document it’s seen. The documents didn’t indicate if that still exists.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed “deep concern” about the monitoring of Brazil and demanded explanations from US diplomats. On Monday, he said the conversations with the Americans were “encouraging” but that “we need to deepen the discussions.”
Patriota reiterated that Brazil was looking at how to take measures at the United Nations “that would guarantee not just privacy, but also the respect and the citizenship of states when it comes to the use of information technology and cyber security.”
The US State Department spokesperson during the daily briefing declined to comment on the alleged intelligence activity in Brazil but admitted dialogue with the Brazilians through normal diplomatic channels, but those conversations ‘of course we would keep private’.
“As a matter of policy, we have been clear that the United States does gather foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. I can tell you that we have spoken with Brazilian officials regarding these allegations,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Asked about the reaction of Brazilian officials to the allegations, among them Foreign minister Antonio Patriota and given the official visit in coming months of President Dilma Rousseff to the US, Ms Psaki said that “we work with Brazil on a wide range of issues and we are hopeful that we can continue to discuss and resolve through normal diplomatic conversations”.
Ms Psaki admitted she was not aware who the officials speaking to Brazil were or if Secretary of State John Kerry had talked to Foreign minister Antonio Patriota. Nevertheless she insisted “we’re in close contact and we’ll continue those conversations”.
Lawmakers in Brazil said they want to question Washington’s ambassador in Brazil about revelations that the United States has collected and stored the e-mail and telephone records of millions of Brazilians.
“We have to verify the veracity of the information that has been published in the press,” the chairman of the Brazilian Senate’s foreign relations committee, Ricardo Ferraço, told reporters.
Besides US envoy Thomas Shannon, the committee will demand to hear from Brazil’s foreign, defense and communications ministers, the senator said.
The newspaper story prompted President Dilma Rousseff to express “grave concern,” while the Communications Ministry spoke of possible criminal prosecutions over the spying.
The US Embassy is awaiting instructions from Washington on how to respond to the O Globo piece, the official Agência Brasil news service said.
Rousseff is scheduled to travel to the United States in October for talks at the White House with President Barack Obama.
Ambassador Shannon is at the end of his tour since President Barack Obama has named Lilian Ayalde a career diplomat with a long experience in international cooperation and former ambassador to Paraguay as the next envoy to Brazil.
Brazil is demand an explanation from the United States over reports its citizens’ electronic communications have been under surveillance by US spy agencies for at least a decade, foreign minister Antonio Patriota said on Sunday.
Patriota said Brazil will propose changes to international communications rules administered by the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union
Patriota’s remarks were in response to a report published by O Globo saying that the US National Security Agency has been monitoring the telephone and e-mail activity of Brazilian companies and individuals as part of US espionage activities.
Patriota also said his government plans to propose changes to international communications rules administered by the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union to improve communications secrecy, the statement said. Brazil also plans to present proposals to the United Nations to protect the privacy of electronic communication.
“The Brazilian government is gravely concerned by the news that electronic and telephone communications of Brazilian citizens are the objective of espionage efforts by US intelligence agencies,” a foreign ministry statement said.
The Globo report did not say how much traffic was monitored by NSA computers and intelligence officials. But the article pointed out that in the Americas Brazil was second only to the United States in the number of transmissions intercepted.
Brazil was a priority nation for the NSA communications surveillance alongside China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, said O Globo.
In the 10-year period, the NSA captured 2.3 billion phone calls and messages in the United States and then used computers to analyze them for signs of suspicious activity, the paper said. In the United States, the NSA used legal but secret warrants to compel communications companies to turn over information about calls and emails for analysis.
Some access to Brazilian communications was obtained through American companies that were partners with Brazilian telecommunications companies, the paper reported, without identifying the companies.
The O Globo article was credited to Glenn Greenwald, Roberto Katz and Jose Casado. Greenwald who works for The Guardian and lives in Rio do Janeiro was the first journalist to reveal the classified documents supplied by Edward Snowden, the NSA ‘leaker’ who the US has accused of espionage.
Allegedly after delivering the information to Greenwald, Snowden escaped to Hong Kong and is currently in the transit area of Moscow’s airport. Snowden’s passport has been revoked. He has made asylum requests to several countries, including Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia. Three countries – Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua – have offered to give Snowden asylum