Yesterday, during the events celebrating the anniversary of Venezuela’s declaration of independence from Spain, Maduro announced he would offer Snowden humanitarian asylum to protect him “form the persecution unleashed by the most powerful empire of the world against a young man that has only told the truth.” No word yet form Snowden if he will accept (Nicaragua has also issued an offer to process his asylum request.)
There is certain irony in Maduro praising Snowden’s actions. The Venezuelan security services routinely records phone conversations of political opponents. Sometimes these recordings make star appearances in public state TV programs. Indeed now disgraced Venezolana de Televisión (VTV) presenter Mario Silva owed much of his fame to his use of these recordings in his show La Hojilla, until he became a victim of his own methods.
Of course phone tapping does not amount to a full “surveillance program”. And the Venezuelan security services are far from the technological capabilities necessary for internet surveillance.
Or are they?
Back in January the New York Times carried an article on a report by the Citizen Lab of the Munk School of Global Affairs of the University of Toronto. The report claimed that technology for internet surveillance made by Blue Coat Systems, California, was being used for censoring purposes by a long list of countries, mentioned last among them was Venezuela.
However in the actual report from Citizen Lab, Venezuela was only mentioned in a final paragraph. The report stated that: “We identified a single installation of PacketShaper on a netblock belonging to CANTV Servicios, one of the country’s largest telecommunications providers and a state-owned enterprise. This was identified by Shodan in August 2012 and was verified during testing. There is no current evidence of filtering of political or social sites in Venezuela. However, Reporters Without Borders has expressed concern that the lack of extensive Internet censorship in the country ignores other methods of controlling Venezuelan cyberspace, such as the monitoring of Internet forums and websites for politically sensitive content.”
In short, the report claimed that Venezuela has the technology but had not yet actually used it for censoring, much less fur surveillance. It does however quote and repeat the concerns form Reporters Without Frontiers and Freedom House that the Venezuelan government is using other methods to control opinions in cyberspace.