Expats knew for years that communication is insecure

Expats have known for years that their international calls from Costa Rica were being monitored by U.S. security agencies. So it is no surprise that a Brazilian newspaper listed the country among those subject to U.S. spying.

Although local officials are putting on a public show of unhappiness, they also have an extensive network of eavesdropping.

The George Bush administration authorized the government to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails to and from the U.S., without obtaining a warrant from a secret security court, shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. In 2007 Bush signed into law a bill that gave the U.S. government more power to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists and even on expats living in Costa Rica.  The legislation, signed in August that year, lifted a requirement that such surveillance could not begin without advance permission from a court. Bush said in a statement that this change would give U.S. agents dynamic and flexible tools for counterterrorism work.

The law, called the Protect America Act, allowed the U.S. National Security Agency to intercept telephone conversations, e-mails and other communications between foreigners that are routed through American equipment. 

According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, U.S. snoopers made the next logical move and set up satellite eavesdropping stations overseas. There were none in Costa Rica, according to the newspaper, but there are such setups in Colombia and México.

Spy equipment is so sophisticated these days that even encrypted communications is vulnerable to snooping. In fact, encrypting a message is an invitation for snoopers. 

The extent of U.S. spying suggests that the information obtained is not limited to terrorism. Costa Rican officials fully expect that the United States is scanning for anti-drug information. Then there is money laundering and even tax cheats.

Costa Rica’s $1.5 million eavesdropping system is on judicial property in San Joaquín de Flores de Heredia.

Officials said when it was set up two years ago that they see the center as a tool for catching organized crimes including drug traffickers. The United States put up some money for the system, so it is likely that U.S. snoops are bugging that place, too.

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