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Posted at 06:19 PM ET, 12/02/2011

The spy files, the Internet arms bazaar and the new reign of terrabytes

A pedestrian passes under the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras in Times Square in New York, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2011. (John Minchillo - AP)
WikiLeaks is back, this time with a vast collection of nearly 300 documents that show just how global the trade in digital surveillance technology really is. The so-called “Spy Files” include everything from marketing materials to price lists, and suggest just how willing Western contractors and vendors are to sell their wares to foreign governments, according to reporting by the Post’s Sari Horwitz, Shyamantha Asokan and Julie Tate. Formerly low-profile events around the world — such as the Wiretappers' Ball in suburban Washington, D.C. — are turning into Vegas-style conventions for selling the most sophisticated digital surveillance tools available to the highest bidder — even if that bidder happens to be in the Middle East or China.

The new WikiLeaks Spy Files show that that the new era of surveillance goes far beyond phishing schemes and ham-fisted spyware installations by rogue organizations. Some of the offerings are incredibly sophisticated, costing upwards of millions of dollars and could be used by state authorities to track the everyday movements of dissidents and other threats to a political regime.

With so many Americans spending hours of each day online, there are worrying signs that we have become numbed to how easily we allow ourselves to be tracked. While none of us would willingly allow a physical wiretap to be placed on our landline phones or a plainclothes FBI officer to trail us all day in an unmarked vehicle, it is almost embarrassingly easy for surveillance agents — both domestic and foreign — to intercept mobile phone calls and Skype messages.

Now that the digital surveillance genie is out of the bottle, all of us need to have greater awareness of the types of data we are leaving behind on the Web, the types of information we are sharing across Internet-connected devices, and who actually has the ability to access this information. Even the so-called good guys are now collecting data about us in ways we could never have imagined just a few years ago — and selling that technology abroad. Imagine what would happen if the bad guys also get their hands on this same kind of "lawful intercept" technology. This is not a scenario from a dystopian film, it is a brave new world where anything goes — at least, if you have the cash.

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By  |  06:19 PM ET, 12/02/2011

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