Elon Musk's Starlink is aiding criminal mining efforts in Brazil's Amazon

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Elon Musk's Starlink is aiding criminal mining efforts in Brazil's Amazon
Starlink kits are assisting illegal mining efforts in remote parts of Brazil.IBAMA / Associated Press
  • Starlink kits are being used for illegal mining efforts in Brazil, per the Associated Press.
  • As the internet system has spread, so have reports of Starlink being used for unintended purposes.
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When Elon Musk launched Starlink, SpaceX's satellite internet service, in 2020, he envisioned connecting people and businesses around the world — particularly in remote areas.

In Brazil, Starlink internet terminals have done just that. But, according to an investigation by the Associated Press, some of those terminals are assisting illegal mining efforts in parts of the Amazon, where such activities have contaminated waterways and caused disease and famine to spread.

In the last five weeks, seven Starlink terminals were found and seized at illegal mining sites in Yanomami land, Brazil's largest Indigenous region, the Brazilian environment agency Ibama told the AP.

"This technology is extremely fast and really improves the ability to manage an illegal mine," Hugo Loss, operations coordinator for Brazil's environment agency, told the AP. "You can manage hundreds of mining sites without ever setting foot in one."

Before Starlink's internet service, illegal miners relied on heavy, stationary antennae, but the internet connection was often unreliable, per the AP. When miners moved sites or ran from raids, they would often have to leave the internet equipment behind, the AP reported.

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The illegal miners are now using Starlink terminals to plan logistics, payments, and anticipate law enforcement raids, the AP reported.

Brazil first got access to Starlink's high-speed internet in 2022. That year, Musk tweeted his excitement about launching Starlink to connect 19,000 schools in Brazil's rural areas.

Starlink did not respond to a request for comment from Insider, nor did it respond to a series of questions from AP.

As Starlink has expanded, reports have surfaced about its terminals being used for unintended purposes, including in the war in Ukraine.

By June of last year, Musk had sent 15,000 Starlink kits to Ukraine, reconnecting parts of the war-torn country where internet service had been lost. In January, Musk tweeted about how Starlink was not allowed to be used for long-range drone strikes in Ukraine's war efforts.

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Days later at a Federal Aviation Administration conference in Washington DC, SpaceX's COO Gwynne Shotwell said that the company was working to limit Ukraine's use of Starlink in offensive military operations, after the country had used Starlink "in ways that were unintentional and not part of any agreement."

As Musk's Starlink service becomes more and more widespread, cases of misuse are to be expected.

This past year, the service spread to all seven continents. By the end of 2022, the number of users skyrocketed to more than one million worldwide — up from the 145,000 users at the start of the year.

Read the full the Associated Press report here.

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