Computer hackers are helping illegal loggers destroy the Amazon rainforest
December 12, 2008
Computer hackers are helping illegal loggers destroy the Amazon rainforest by breaking into the Brazilian government’s timber tracking system and altering the records so as to increase logging allocations, reports Greenpeace.
The Brazilian environment ministry requires all timber shipments from the state of Pará to have a transport permit, which is tracked via an online system introduced two years ago. The volume of each shipment is logged in a database and deducted from a company’s annual timber allocation set under its management plan. But hackers are apparently gaming the system, modifying the records for at least 107 logging and charcoal companies, according to Brazilian federal prosecutor Daniel Avelino who is bringing charges today.
“Almost half of the companies involved in this scam have other law suits pending for environmental crimes or the use of slave labour, amongst other things,” he said.
Deforestation figures from INPE. NOTE Conventional logging is not included in these figures, which count only complete clearing or conversion of forest land. Logging is considered “degradation”. By some estimates the area logged annually in Brazil is one to one-and-a-half times the area deforested.
The extent of the scheme is considerable. Avelino estimates that 1.7 million cubic meters of timber worth 2 billion reais ($833 million) were smuggled out of the Amazon. 202 people are facing prosecution.
Greenpeace blogger Jamie Woolley writes that Greenpeace-Brasil has “flagged up potential security holes in the past.”
Woolley quotes André Muggiati of Greenpeace’s Manuas office.
“We’ve pointed out before that this method of controlling the transport of timber was subject to fraud. And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same computer system is also used in two other Brazilian states,” he said.
“By hacking into the permit system, these companies have made their timber shipments appear legal and compliant with the forest management plans. But in reality, they’re trading illegal timber which is making the problem of deforestation worse, and a lack of control and policing in the areas they’re logging means they think they can get away with it.”
The charges come shortly after Brazil announced a 3.8 percent increase in forest clearing for the year. In total 11,968 square kilometers (4,600 square miles) of rainforest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon between August 2007 and July 2008. Brazil has recently announced a $21 billion fund for preserving the Amazon and has stepped up law enforcement efforts — which have led to violent standoffs — in the region. Still the country is sending mixed messages. The Brazilian Congress is preparing legislation that would change the national forest code to allow Amazon landowners to convert up to half their forest land for pasture, agriculture, and plantations. The current law requires landowners to keep 80 percent of their holdings forested.