News / Americas

Brazil Tries to Elude NSA With New Cables, Satellite

FILE - Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, Sept. 2, 2013.
FILE - Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, Sept. 2, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Can any government escape the prying eyes of the U.S. National Security Agency? Brazil is going to try.
 
Angered by recent revelations that the United States spied on its emails and phone calls and even its president, Brazil's government is speeding up efforts to improve the security of its communications - and hopefully keep more of its secrets under wraps.
 
By purchasing a new satellite, pushing bureaucrats in Brasilia to use secure email platforms and even building its own fiber-optic cable to communicate with governments in neighboring countries, Brazil hopes to at least reduce the amount of information available to foreign spies.
 
The growing emphasis on secure communications has been a somewhat tough sell in a famously relaxed country that has no history of international terrorism and hasn't gone to war with any of its neighbors in more than a century.
 
Brazilian officials also admit they face the same problems as many other countries upset by the recent NSA disclosures. That is, building new technology is expensive and difficult, and even then there is no guarantee of fully dodging the sophisticated dragnet employed by the U.S. government.
 
Nonetheless, Brazil is particularly motivated to act.
 
More than most other countries, it has been embarrassed by documents leaked by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A report by Globo TV on Sunday displayed a document with a diagram showing communications between President Dilma Rousseff and her top aides, which it said was part of an NSA “case study” on its own powers of espionage.
 
Rousseff was so angered by the news that she may cancel a planned state visit to the White House next month, an official told Reuters on Wednesday.
 
That followed a report in July that the NSA had used secret surveillance programs to spy on emails and collect data on telephone calls in Brazil and other Latin American countries. In response, the U.S. government has said it monitors the patterns of communications in order to detect potential threats to security, but it does not snoop on ordinary people.
 
Bureaucrats working in Brasilia's modernistic government buildings have had encrypted email services, including a local platform known as “Expresso,” available to them for years.
 
But it wasn't until the recent disclosures that many officials realized their value, said Marcos Melo, a manager at Serpro, the state-run communications company that created Expresso and provides the government with secure databases.
 
“Now people understand the risk you run of not protecting your communications,” said Melo. “When we started investing in Expresso six years ago, they said: 'Why bother developing a new tool if Gmail exists and is free?'.”
 
Controlling the skies
 

The first wave of spying disclosures in July included documents showing the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency jointly ran satellite monitoring stations in 64 countries, including one based in a residential neighborhood of Brazil's capital, Brasilia.
 
Coincidence or not, Brazil has made key decisions in recent weeks to gain more independence in the skies above.
 
Within weeks, it picked Thales Alenia Space, a consortium led by Europe's largest defense electronics company, France's Thales, to build a satellite that will be shared by Brazil's government and armed forces.
 
The bidding was decided by Visiona, a new venture set up by state-led telecom company Telebras and Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer to operate the new satellite and build future ones.
 
The choice of Thales over a consortium of U.S. and Japanese companies raised eyebrows among some diplomats in Brasilia who wondered if the NSA disclosures were to blame.
 
Telebras president Caio Bonilha told Reuters the main factor in the decision was cost and not concerns that a U.S.-made satellite could be more susceptible to U.S. spying programs.
 
However, speaking broadly about recent company actions, he recognized that “now, security has become a top concern.”
 
Much of the Brazilian government's communications, including those of the military, rely on a satellite owned by a company controlled by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Brazil cannot control its angle let alone the security of its channels.
 
The new satellite provided by Thales will be launched from neighboring French Guiana in 2016. The total cost, including the satellite, launch and insurance, will be $600 million to $650 million.
 
It will provide access to broad-band Internet service in remote parts of Brazil and extend the government's digital networks to every corner of Latin America's largest nation.
 
Brazil has also begun to establish direct fiber-optic connections with its South American neighbors - Uruguay has been connected, Argentina is next - to avoid government-to-government information passing through U.S networks.
 
“The less your information travels around the world, the safer it will be,” said Bonilha.
 
Secure email
 
Serpro, the state company that provides secure communications, also expects more adopters going forward.
 
Expresso is a communications suite with email, chat, videoconferencing, file management and document exchange tools. It has 700,000 users, though only 60,000 in the federal government and just 1,000 in Rousseff's presidential palace, for now. Other customers for the software include other state enterprises and private companies.
 
Serpro's work developing Expresso version 3, with German IT company Metaways, has become a government priority, Melo said.
 
Expresso is based on open source software, which contrary to what one might think provides greater security because the code is known and can be fully checked for invasive activity, unlike proprietary software which has a secret code that could hide access by others to your data, which Melo said is the case with Google.
 
Google has denied that the U.S. government has access or a “back door” to the information stored in its data centers.
 
Brazil's Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on Google, Facebook and Microsoft executives in Brazil to testify at a hearing probing their possible collaboration with the NSA. They flatly denied that their companies have played any such role.
 
Even under the bright lights of Brazil's Congress, expectations of total protection against spying are muted.
 
“Espionage has existed ever since nations existed, but it has reached unimaginable dimensions with the NSA,” said committee chairman Senator Ricardo Ferraco, who backed a parliamentary inquiry launched last week into the NSA spying.
 
“But let's not kid ourselves. However much we do, it will never be enough to stop U.S. electronic surveillance, because today's technology is boundless,” the senator said.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Jailed American Aims to Leave Cuba 'Dead or Alive'

In Havana after visiting Alan Gross, attorney Scott Gilbert say his client has lost some vision in his right eye, walks with a limp due to hip problems, has lost a tooth and is 50 kilograms lighter than at the time of his arrest
More

Oldest Living Pro Ballplayer Dead at 102

Conrado Marrero's grandson confirmed the death, which came just two days before the centenarian's 103rd birthday
More

Summit to Protect Oceans Opens

Oceans called fundamental to life
More

Actress Lupita Nyong'o is People's 'Most Beautiful' Woman

Oscar winner, 31, lauded for role in '12 Years A Slave' says she 'never dreamed' she would be praised for her looks and land on cover of weekly magazine
More

Violent Protests Erupt Near Rio's Tourist Attractions

The rioting was sparked after word spread that the body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, a dancer on Brazil's Globo television network, had been discovered
More

Russia Expels Canadian Diplomat

Reports say first secretary's expulsion in Moscow is in retaliation for deportation of Russian military attache from Russian Embassy in Ottawa
More