The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics under strong surveillance

By EDRi · October 9, 2013

According to documents collected by two Russian journalists, experts in security services, and shared with The Guardian, the Russian Government is prepared to deploy one of the most spectacular and invasive surveillance and spying system that will affect not only the athletes or spectators attending the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February 2014.

Procurement documents and tenders from Russian communication companies indicate that new telephone and internet spying capabilities will give FSB, the Russian state security organisation, the power to intercept any telephony or data traffic in Sochi. By using Sorm, Russia’s main system for intercepting communications, they will even be able to track sensitive words or phrases mentioned in emails, webchats and social media. Technical specifications set out by the Russian state telecoms agency also show that a deep packet inspection, made compatible with Sorm, will be installed, allowing intelligence agencies to filter users by certain keywords.

The two Russian journalists, Soldatov and Borogan, have discovered that the FSB has been working since 2010 to upgrade the Sorm system to be sure it can cope with the extra traffic during the Olympic Games. All telephone and ISP providers must buy and install, by law, Sorm boxes in their technology but they are denied access to the surveillance boxes.

Thus, the FSB can access data without even the knowledge of the provider and although, theoretically, the FSB needs a warrant in order to be able to intercept communications, there is no obligation to show it to anyone and telecom providers have no right to demand that the FSB show them the warrant.

As part of the so-called “Safe Sochi” project, there will be more than 5500 CCTV installed in Sochi, out of which 309 will be manned by the FSB.

Additionally, the Russian Big Brother represented by FSB and the Interior Ministry, will deploy a serious number of drones equipped with thermal vision, with capacities to plot map grid references of objects below and to transmit video and photographic images, live, to an operator’s screen.

In the light of these revelations, MEPs Sophie In’tveld, Birgit Sippel and Jan Albrecht have prepared a series of questions for the European Commission including whether the Commission is aware of the reports, whether there is an assessment of the surveillance operation in terms of purpose limitation, proportionality and compliance to the data protection rules and legislation of the Council of Europe and EU or an assessment of the risks of such total surveillance in terms of the recently adopted Russian laws monitoring activities of foreign NGOs and prohibiting ‘gay propaganda.

A leaflet from the US state department’s bureau of diplomatic security earlier this year was warning people travelling to the Olympic Games in Sochi to be cautious with communications."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," says the document.

Russia to monitor ‘all communications’ at Winter Olympics in Sochi (6.10.2013)…

Russian spy agency seeks to expand Internet surveillance (21.10.2013)…

Federal Security Server (only in Russian, 21.10.2013)