Classified by Reporters Without Borders among “The Enemies of Internet,” Hacking Team is an Italian company specializing in software, surveillance systems, and decryption. On 6 July 2015, company servers were hacked, rendering public 400 Gb of information. One item to have emerged is a table showing the company’s past and current clients where we find listed for Tunisia the ATI, Tunisian Internet Agency (Agence Tunisienne d’Internet). According to the leaked information, ATI benefited from Hacking Team services via a contract for a “demo” system in 2011, in the midst of the country’s revolution.


The contract was originally designated for a period of 45 days beginning at the end of September 2010, but was extended until 3 July 2011 by which point the company realized that it was not to gain a new client in Tunisia for the surveillance technology tested. As revealed in an email exchange between Hacking Team employees, the company had deployed the technology in question with full knowledge that the equipment was to enable the theft of information and connectivity data concerning citizens using Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.

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In addition, use of this surveillance system increased during the last week of December 2010 when Tunisian protesters were using the internet and online social networks to inform the world what was transpiring. It was at this point, we discover in the same email exchange, that the company attempted to secure a contract with ATI for all of 2011, the CEO of RESI Information and Technology Services qualifying that which was taking place in Tunisia during this period as an “opportunity.” This opportunity dissolved when, on 16 December 2010, contact between the company and Tunisian authorities was broken.

These revelations confirm what was presented by Moez Chakchouk, CEO of ATI since February 2011, during the 2011 Arab Bloggers Meeting organized by Nawaat and Global Voices. Chakchouk explained that Tunisia had been a “test lab of surveillance systems and internet censorship for the benefit of Western companies.” Only partially transparent in his presentation, Chakchouk reported the costs associated with the technology that had been utilized, but did not reveal the names of the providers of this equipment, with the exception of McAfee (Smartfilter).

Others have spoken out since 2011, including Kamel Saadaoui, ATI CEO during the height of surveillance activities, who shared the names of other companies such as Bluecoat Inc (BCSI) and NetApp Inc (NTAP). Other names were identified through research work, the most thorough of which was conducted by Ben Wagner in his report on the exportation of surveillance technologies and censorship.

In the meantime, there remains much to be learned about one of the world’s most complex surveillance systems. Still today we have not gained a broad understanding of what technologies and techniques were employed by the Ben Ali government in order to monitor and censor citizens. Since 2011 and particularly since the establishment of the Technical Telecommunications Agency (Agence Technique de Télécommunications, ATT) in 2013, selective transparency regarding online surveillance prevents us from determining whether or not contracts with these kinds of providers have been renewed. Indeed, decree n° 2013-4506 of 6 November 2013 concerning the creation of this agency does not require that information concerning the surveillance equipment used by State institutions be made publicly available.