RAB seeking to purchase powerful mobile phone spy tool

David Bergman

The Rapid Action Battalion is seeking to purchase a powerful mobile spy tool which can obtain details of all mobile phone numbers operating in a particular locality, according to a UK based privacy right organisation, Privacy International, which has published a copy of the procurement document on its website.
Known as an ‘IMSI catcher’, the equipment masquerades as a mobile phone base station and logs the telephone numbers of all the mobile phones in a particular area.
‘[IMSI] Catchers allow [law enforcement authorities] to indiscriminately gather data from thousands of mobile phones in a specific area and at public events such as political demonstrations,’ the Privacy International website states.
IMSI stands for International Mobile Subscriber Information.
The international non-governmental organisation is lobbying the Swiss government authorities to prevent a company, NeoSoft, from exporting the surveillance equipment to Bangladesh so that, ‘RAB’s capacity to engage in indiscriminate violence’ is not ‘augmented with indiscriminate surveillance technology.’
‘Such a technology in the hands of an agency as reportedly unaccountable as the RAB is extremely concerning,’ it said.
RAB’s director of media Mufti Mohammed, and its director of communications M Shahed Karim both told New Age that they knew nothing about the procurement or whether RAB had received the equipment.
The use of such equipment is lawful under surveillance provisions of the amended version of the Telecommunications Act 2001 which provides the home ministry wide powers of surveillance.
In December 2013, the Central Procurement Technical Unit published on its website a Home Ministry ‘invitation for tender’ seeking a ‘UHF Transmitter & Surveillance Equipment (Vehicular Version)’ for RAB’s use.
It stated that the tender closing date was February 27, 2014.
In April 2014, Privacy International published a copy of the detailed tender specifications which established that the type of UHF transmitter being sought by the Home Ministry was an ‘IMSI catcher’.
The document specifies that the IMSI catcher should both be able to fit into a ‘carry case’ and mounted on a vehicle. ‘System design should put a strong emphasis on covert operation and portability,’ it states.
The tender goes onto say that the surveillance equipment should have a ‘support database of at least 20,000 different IMSI numbers and ability to query database online and off line’ and can locate the exact coordinates of the mobile phone.
‘[The] system should be able to collect all operation[s] covertly without any interference to the subscribers,’ it states.
Privacy International states that though advanced IMSI Catchers are able ‘to perform interception of voice, SMS, and data, it is not clear from the tender specification ‘whether this is the type of product RAB are looking to purchase.’
In September, the Swiss magazine WOZ revealed that ten RAB officials had checked into a hotel in Zurich under the name of the surveillance company, Neosoft, a prominent Swiss manufacturer of ‘mobile technologies’.
It remains unclear what was the purpose of the visit, but Joshim Uddin, RAB’s director of training confirmed to New Age that some of the organisation’s officers had gone to Zurich for training in the use of ‘some equipment’ but did not know the details. He also said that he did not know whether RAB was now using this equipment on which the officers were trained.
The procurement document states that the winner of the tender would provide training for ten RAB personnel in how to operate, administer and maintain the IMSI catcher.
Following this visit, the Swiss government body responsible for export controls, SECO, told Privacy International that it had asked the custom authorities to investigate whether Neosoft had broken export control rules.
Swiss law requires that both the export of an IMSI catcher and the provision of training in the use of such equipment, would require an export license. It has been suggested that the equipment may not be exported directly by Neosoft itself but by an intermediary company in Germany.
‘It is difficult for anyone to conclude … that the RAB, who have been roundly condemned by NGOs and governments alike, should have access to this technology and to the knowledge of how to apply it,’ Privacy International states in a press release on its website. ‘The export of this technology, if it goes through, can only therefore serve to undermine human rights in Bangladesh.’

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