The Intelligence Support System (ISS) World Latin America Trade Show, hosted in Mexico City during October 20 to 22, where secret surveillance systems and equipment vendors gather to meet and sell their products to governments, escalates concerns surrounding increased and unchecked use of surveillance technology in Latin America.

The ISS World Latin America's website has advertised this trade show like any other standard event in Mexico City, despite the fact that it has marketed itself as “the world's largest gathering of Central and South American Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Homeland Security Analysts as well as Telecom Operators responsible for Lawful Interception, Hi-Tech Electronic Investigations and Network Intelligence Gathering.”

This event sheds light on the interest of Latin American governments to acquire more intrusive surveillance technologies. As we have always said, surveillance has become increasingly affordable and easier to carry out. Legislation in the region lacks sufficient checks and balances that would limit the use of these invasive surveillance technologies and techniques to avoid any abuse of power. And, while international human rights law provides a framework to restrict surveillance to what is necessary and proportionate, many States have neglected to apply these standards to their surveillance operations.

Moreover, throughout the region there are almost no rules that compel transparency in the context of surveillance or effective and independent public oversight mechanisms, let alone any effective remedy for privacy violations. These safeguards are needed in any democratic society to ensure that the rule of law will be respected. Adding insult to injury, some surveillance techniques have been misused to spy on journalists and politicians. This happened, for example, in the State of Puebla in Mexico, where political opponents were targeted with malware, as well as in Ecuador where the National Intelligence Secretariat (SENAIN) used Hacking Team's technology to illegally spy on opposition leaders.

Luis Fernando Garcia, Director of Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D) told EFF:

"Most of Hacking Team's clients in Mexico do not have legal powers to conduct surveillance. Not only has the purchase and use of spying malware was illegal but there is evidence that it has been used to target political adversaries."

ISS World Latin America Agenda

As the ISS website outlines, the show is composed of five tracks:

  • Track 1: ISS for Lawful Interception and Criminal Investigations
  • Track 2: Encrypted Traffic Monitoring and IT Intrusion Product Training
  • Track 3: LEA and Intelligence Analyst Training and Product Demonstrations
  • Track 4: Social Network Monitoring and Big Data Analytics Product Demonstrations
  • Track 5: Mobile Location, Surveillance and Signal Intercept Product Demonstrations

The event's website provides a brochure that states that surveillance activities must be carried out legally and safely, however, the site omits an important detail: Some of these surveillance technologies have been sold to oppressive states to commit human rights violations.

EFF, together with Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), Derechos Digitales, Article 19, Social Tic, and the Frente por la Libertad de Expresión have released a statement rejecting the organization of ISS in Mexico since the country has weakened institutional foundations, “where corruption, impunity, forced disappearances and torture are frequent,” The statement highlights "the acquisition and use of spy software by Latin American governments, which can not be use without strict controls, accountability and transparency. The security activities...must be aimed at protecting freedom and human rights, not as excuse for hurting their exercise."

Read the content of the full letter in this link (Spanish).