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.
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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Mexico Captures Wanted Drug Kingpin Hector Beltran Leyva

Beltran Leyva is one of four brothers who allegedly headed a vicious Mexican drug cartel after it split with the Sinaloa cartel
More

Mother Says Former US Marine Needs Treatment, Not Mexican Prison

Jill Tahmooressi said son Andrew, 26, has been threatened by prison guards with rape, torture and execution since his arrest in March
More

Rio 2016 Olympics Progress Impressive, Says IOC in Change of Tone

Assessment, in stark contrast to ‘worst’ ever remark made by one committee member, comes after latest site inspection
More

Mexican Soldiers Face Murder Charges in 22 Deaths

Three soldiers charged with homicide in death of 22 suspected drug gang members who prosecutors allege were executed
More

Poll: Record Number of Mexicans Crime Victims in 2013

While government data shows murder rate has fallen in past 2 years, crimes such as kidnapping and extortion, which affect wider swath of the population, rise
More

OAS Asks Members to Take In Guantanamo Detainees

Organization of American States issues appeal for member countries to take in detainees from US military prison
More