Rights group sues UK over exports of spy tech
by Raphael Satter, Associated Press
April 16, 2013 12:00 PM | 396 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this image file photo dated Tuesday Jan. 6, 2009, provided by the British Government showing The Director General of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5, Jonathan Evans as he sits at a desk in Thames House, London. Evans is to step down as head of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 next month, is is announced Monday March 25, 2013. Evans has led MI5 as Director General since 2007, and Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May announced to lawmakers Monday that the spy chief would be “moving on” after 33-years in the security services. (AP Photo / British Government - CROWN COPYRIGHT)
In this image file photo dated Tuesday Jan. 6, 2009, provided by the British Government showing The Director General of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5, Jonathan Evans as he sits at a desk in Thames House, London. Evans is to step down as head of Britain's domestic spy agency MI5 next month, is is announced Monday March 25, 2013. Evans has led MI5 as Director General since 2007, and Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May announced to lawmakers Monday that the spy chief would be “moving on” after 33-years in the security services. (AP Photo / British Government - CROWN COPYRIGHT)
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LONDON (AP) — A human rights group is suing the British government over the export of sophisticated surveillance technology that has been used to spy on dissidents in Bahrain and elsewhere.

Privacy International said Tuesday it had filed a lawsuit before London's High Court over the government's refusal to say whether it was investigating U.K.-based Gamma International, whose FinFisher software has been linked to use in more than two dozen countries, including Bahrain, Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

Privacy International argues that the software's export may have broken British law and has been lobbying for months for an official investigation into the company's activities.

British officials have refused to comment on whether they're investigating. In a telephone interview, Privacy International's Eric King said the lawsuit is aimed at forcing the government to show its hand.

"If they reveal that there has been no investigation thus far, we need to challenge them," he said.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs — Britain's export authority — declined to comment on the suit, citing legal reasons. Gamma International did not immediately return an email seeking comment, although it has said previously that it complies with U.K. export laws.

The export of Western surveillance software to repressive regimes has drawn increasing attention in the wake of the pro-democracy uprisings in the Arab world that laid bare the high-tech methods used by state spy agencies to stifle dissent.

FinFisher — a Trojan horse program that can dodge anti-virus protections to steal data, log keystrokes, and eavesdrop on Skype calls — came under particular scrutiny after Bloomberg News reported last year that the software had been used to spy on Bahraini dissident Ala'a Shehabi.

Gamma has denied selling FinFisher to Bahrain, suggesting that the software may have been a stolen demonstration copy.

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Online:

Privacy International: https://www.privacyinternational.org

Gamma International: https://www.gammagroup.com/gammainternational.aspx

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Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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