By Ryan Gallagher
|A police officer removes a computer from the the Taiba mosque in Hamburg, Germany, which was banned in 2010 for allegedly serving as a meeting place for Sept. 11 terrorists. Courtesy of Bodo Marks/AFP/Getty Images
In the shadowy world of electronic surveillance, tactics used by law enforcement agencies are rarely revealed. But now an international protocol about how to best monitor and track people online has been disclosed for the first time — offering a unique insight into covert police methodology.
Buried in a recent 158-page U.N. report on how terrorists use the Internet is the so-called “protocol of a systematic approach.” The protocol, which was authored by an elite Italian special operations unit called the Raggruppamento, is significant because it has been implemented by authorities across the world, according to the United Nations.
The document outlines the stages law enforcement agencies should go through when conducting electronic surveillance of suspects: first, by obtaining data and “cookies” stored by websites like Facebook, Google, eBay and Paypal; second, by obtaining location data from servers used by VoIP Internet phone services (like Skype); then, by conducting a “smart analysis” of these data before moving on to the most serious and controversial step: intercepting communications, exploiting security vulnerabilities in communications technologies for “intelligence-gathering purposes,” and even infecting a target computer with Trojan-horse spyware to mine data.