Russian surveillance at Sochi Winter Olympics will be “PRISM on steroids”

The 2014 Winter Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi will see spectators, athletes and delegates exposed to some of the most invasive snooping ever seen in the history of the games, a report says.

Documents shared with The Guardian have revealed that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has drastically expanded its access to telephone and data traffic in the Sochi area. This will allow Russian intelligence services to intercept communications and even search for keywords among emails, web searches, instant messaging and social media.

Two journalists, Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, who have followed the activities of the FSB for years, pored over reams of open source technical documents as well as the publicly available records of government agencies. It was here that they discovered the changes made to the Wi-Fi and telecommunications infrastructure surrounding Sochi.

SORM, or the System for Operative Investigative Activities, has been active since a 1995 law made it legal for the FSB to intercept all telephone and Internet communications. The system can track all credit card transactions, emails and Internet use, and since the passing of the Law on Operational Search Activity, even allows agents to listen in on phone calls. Soldatov and Borogan also found evidence that the controversial technology called "deep packet inspection" has been implemented in the Sochi area, allowing agencies to search through users' details by keyword.

While the FSB technically needs a warrant before it can intercept users' information, it is not obliged to show anyone that warrant. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who are all required to install a SORM surveillance device in their networks at their own expense, simply have to take the agency's word for it. Since 2000, the agency doesn't even have to provide details of who the targets of snooping are.

Professor Ron Deibert of the University of Toronto, describes the SORM expansion as "PRISM on steroids", referring to the gathering of metadata by the NSA and the UK's own GCHQ, which was exposed earlier this year by mega-leaker Edward Snowden.

Gus Hosein of Privacy International added that since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, "more people are travelling with smartphones with far more data." Compared to 2008, nowadays "there is more to spy on." The US State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security earlier this year published a leaflet with advice for those travelling to the games, containing the following advice: "Business travellers should be particularly aware that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities."

The leaflet also advised removing batteries from phones when not in use, and refraining from discussing sensitive subjects over the phone or email.

At a press conference earlier this week, FSB official Alexei Lavrishchev denied the allegations of excessive surveillance, claiming that security measures taken for the London 2012 Olympics had been far more stringent.

Image: Flickr (timubl)