Internet and cell phone surveillance has ballooned into a $5-billion-a-year business that operates far from the public eye, the Wall Street Journal reports. Confidential buyers can use the tools to steal information directly from your phone, monitor tens of thousands of cell calls, or use "massive intercept" gear that collects the Internet communication of an entire country. (See the marketing documents acquired by the Journal.) Some tools ended up in the hands of Libyan and Syrian officials during the Arab Spring.
Companies say they obey export laws and only sell their products to help others catch crooks—but, they add, they can't be held responsible for how their tools are used, or whether they are resold to less reputable buyers. "We don't really get into asking, 'Is this in the public interest?'" says one trade-show organizer. The co-founder of a German company says, "It's like a knife. You can always cut vegetables but you can also kill your neighbor." He called it "a constant moral, ethical dilemma we have."