UK Government Faces Trial Over Privacy International Surveillance Suit

Human rights organisation Privacy International is going to trial with HMRC, over the latter’s refusal to release information about exports of a British surveillance technology seller.

Privacy International sued HMRC in April, claiming the government had not released information on the sales of Gamma International, whose FinFisher spy software was found in countries with repressive regimes, including . A court has now ruled the case should proceed to trial as the claims are “of public importance”, Privacy International said.

The activist group believes HMRC has acted unlawfully for not supplying information on Gamma’s export practices.

Fighting surveillance tech

“We welcome the court’s decision, and look forward to asking the court to force HMRC to make a fresh decision and disclose what steps, if any, they are taking to hold surveillance companies to account for potentially illegal exports,” said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International.

“The public, especially victims targeted by this invasive surveillance, have a right to know what is being done.”

The hearing is likely to take place early next year.

Gamma and its competitors, such as Italy’s Hacking Team, have taken a battering from Internet activists over the past year, who are concerned the companies are knowingly flogging kit to repressive regimes.

FinFisher was found in at least 36 countries, according to a recent Citizen Lab report, including Bahrain and Egypt, where some fear the spy software, which is said to be delivered in targeted spear phishing attacks, is being used to target anti-government protesters.

The companies, however, claim they have strict rules on whom they sell to and how their technology is used.

Privacy International thinks governments should be enforcing strict export rules on such technology, but fears it may not have done. In the case of Gamma, it believes the company could have broken those rules.

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Thomas Brewster

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

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