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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Video Havana Welcomes US Decision to Remove Cuba From Terror List

Move brings two Cold War adversaries step closer to re-establishing diplomatic relations that were severed more than 50 years ago
More

Video FIFA's Blatter Defiant About US Corruption Probe

Newly re-elected FIFA president questions timing of US corruption investigation, says he is victim of 'hate' on part of European soccer's governing body UEFA
More

Venezuela Blocks Former LatAm Presidents From Seeing Detained Leaders

Andres Pastrana of Colombia, Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia, both political conservatives, not allowed to meet opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos
More

Haiti Struggles to Stem Cholera as Rains Come Early

From January to April this year, 14,226 Haitians infected with cholera - triple the number of cases from the same period last year, with Port-au-Prince hardest hit
More

Cuba Not Off Hook, Despite Removal From US Terror List

Though it's off blacklist, Havana is not clear of all US embargoes and statutory restrictions
More

Nazi War Crimes Suspect Dies in Canada

Vladimir Katriuk, 93, had denied allegations that he took part in killings of civilians in Soviet village of Khatyn, now part of Belarus
More