Colombia’s Upcoming Massive Digital Surveillance Program

$50 Million to Intercept Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Skype

This weekend, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported on a new surveillance program in the country that will allow authorities, with a judicial order, to intercept all types of communication sent through the Internet in real-time. Dubbed Plataforma Única de Monitoreo y Análisis (PUMA), the digital surveillance program will be fully operational by next year.

Currently, Colombian authorities only monitor phone calls and text messages through the surveillance program called Esperanza. However, this program has difficulty keeping up with new forms of crime, or so the logic goes behind the million-dollar investment in PUMA. General José Roberto León Riaño, director of the National Police, clarifies in a document sent to the Colombian congress:

Strengthening of the PUMA platform aims to cover 20,000 means of telecommunication, which is projected to include telephone networks and communications traffic over data networks.

PUMA’s headquarters will be located on Police property in western Bogotá and will have 300 “work stations” with another 400 distributed throughout the country. Police told El Tiempo that PUMA would only be used for judicial purposes and not for intelligence gathering. However, the newspaper asks a very important question: To what extent are Colombians willing to sacrifice their privacy to strengthen security?

We’ve already seen the lack of transparency and restraint when government has handled legal snooping of its citizens in the United States, a nation which many assume to have one of the least-corrupt governments of the world. That makes me cautious regarding any government obtaining the “legal” ability to violate citizen’s privacy, and so should the people of Colombia.

Editor’s note: The first paragraph has a correction based on some confusion over the translation of “en tiempo real y previa orden judicial.” In light of a more recent update and clarification, this spying program does require a judicial order.

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