There’s a fascinating, but largely overlooked, detail in Glenn Greenwald’s latest story for the Intercept, about the tools available to the UK intelligence services for spying on their own citizens.
Tucked away in a long list of capabilities is mention of:
A suite of tools for monitoring target use of the UK auction site eBay
eBay is only one of two companies mentioned by name in the list, the other being Skype which, of course, was previously owned by eBay.
There are a couple of things to note about the inclusion on the list of eBay and one of their former acquisitions. First, as Pando’s Mark Ames has previously reported, eBay has a long and proud history of working closely with law enforcement to provide access to users’ account data.
From its earliest days, eBay has operated a vast trans-national private police force which has overseen thousands of arrests and convictions around the globe, has trained countless thousands of law enforcement officials in the US and abroad, and cooperates with police and intelligence agencies on every inhabitable continent…
…In April 2009, eBay executives appeared at a “training day” conference with law enforcement officials in Washington, DC, which gave a further glimpse into eBay’s work with government law enforcement. At the meeting, according to Washington Internet Daily, eBay senior regulatory counsel Jack Christin boasted:
“The company referred over 500 cases ‘on a silver platter’ to law enforcement last year , with full records needed to bring cases…”
The clear implication in the latest revelation (and I’ve contacted eBay for comment, and will update if I hear back. Update: See eBay response below.) is that eBay and Skype provided specific tools or other means for the intelligence service to monitor their users. Otherwise why would the UK intelligence services single out those two companies as being particularly accessible? And, if eBay and Skype did provide a back door to the spooks, both companies have some serious questions to answer about their relationship with MI5.
Curiously, Greenwald ignores the eBay connection entirely, focusing instead on the mention of Skype, and mentioning only its current owner, Microsoft. Greenwald says the revelation raises “further questions about the extent of Microsoft’s cooperation with spy agencies or potential vulnerabilities in its Skype’s encryption.”
The document containing the eBay revelations was a wiki which was last edited in 2012, but the original copyright date is 2008. Microsoft didn’t buy Skype until 2009. So why is Greewald outraged by Microsoft but absolutely silent on eBay? Surely another person with serious questions to answer here is Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay and Chairman of its board?
But of course, we’re unlikely to find any of those answers on the Intercept. In addition to his stake in, and control over, eBay, Omidyar owns 100% of the Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, a fact strangely undisclosed in Greenwald’s article.
Update: An eBay spokesperson responds…
eBay Inc. responds to lawful requests from law enforcement agencies worldwide regarding specific individuals or accounts. We have never given any agency continuing access to our servers or user data and have never been contacted by GCHQ in regard to the alleged suite of tools code named “ELATE”.