Although snuffing out dissent and cutting citizens off from the world aren’t actions generally associated with the American ideal, two U.S. companies are helping the Egyptian government do just that as populist protests continue shaking the African nation.
The tear gas and smoke grenade manufacturer Combined Systems, Inc. is based out of Jamestown, Pennsylvania. But its wares have been showing up all over the Middle East as of late. On January 20, a photographer with the Eurpean PressPhoto agency was killed when a CSI tear gas canister struck him in the head at a protest in Tunisia. And throughout yesterday and today, CSI smoke bombs and tear gas have clogged the air and lungs in Cairo.
A less visible but possibly more important American-Egyptian partnership is that between the tech company Narus and the Mubarak autocracy. A subsidiary of Boeing, Narus sells hyper-complex, slightly creepy mass surveillance equipment. Its most famous creation is Narus Insight, “a supercomputer system which is allegedly used by the National Security Agency and other entities to perform mass surveillance and monitoring of public and corporate Internet communications in real time.”
Narus provides Telecom Egypt, the state-controlled, dominant internet and telephone company, with deep packet inspection (DPI) technology. The specifics are complex, but DPI is essentially a filter that allows network administrators to track and scrutinize content being transmitted via the internet and cell phones. According to Narus’ vice president of marketing, Steve Bannerman, whose company also works with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, “Anything that comes through [an Internet protocol network], we can record. … We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on; we can reconstruct their [Voice Over Internet Protocol] calls.”
Narus allowed Telecom Egypt to monitor the online movements of every plugged-in citizen of Egypt. And when Telecom Egypt (read: the Egyptian government) didn’t like what it saw, it blacked out the nation’s internet capabilities.
This type of thing shouldn’t be happening in a supposedly democratic country. And it certainly shouldn’t be happening with the support of Americans. To be sure, CSI and Narus are well within their legal rights to sell their products to whomever they’d like. And they should be allowed to do so without having to explain themselves or their motives. But that these two companies help other countries stifle social, political, and economic freedoms while benefitting from them over here is horribly twisted if not technically wrong in a legal sense.