Reporters Without Borders Names And Shames Corporate Spyware Sellers

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UK’s Gamma International is branded the “Corporate Enemy of the Internet”

Private software companies HackingTeam , Gamma International, Trovicor, Amesys and Blue Coat have been branded as the “Corporate Enemies of the Internet” by freedom of speech campaigners Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in their annual report on digital censorship.

The 2013 report, published on the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, put special emphasis on digital surveillance. It found increased use of spyware by repressive regimes around the world, manufactured by private companies often located in Europe and the US.

According to RWB, countries like Syria, China, Egypt and Iran use software made by these companies to track dissidents and prevent the dissemination of sensitive information, sometimes indirectly leading to torture and imprisonment of campaigners.

The organisation calls for the introduction of controls on the export of surveillance software and hardware to countries that could use them against their citizens.

The spy who didn’t love me

According to data gathered by WikiLeaks, the global digital surveillance market is worth over $5 billion. RWB, which serves as a consultant to the United Nations, says that while digital surveillance can be used for legitimate purposes of fighting cybercrime, it has also “expanded the range of possibilities for governments.”

spywareThe report looks at two types of products – software used for large-scale monitoring of the Internet, and highly targeted spyware that grants access to victim’s hard drive and private conversations. “Some producers supply it directly to state agents such as intelligence and security services. Others openly advertise their software’s ability to track down and spy on government opponents,” says RWB. “They all sell products that are liable to be used by governments to violate human rights and freedom of information.”

HackingTeam has previously defended its business against similar allegations, saying that the evidence of its involvement with the governments of Morocco and the UAE was “largely circumstantial” and the company was not dealing with nations present on official EU, US or related blacklists. Besides, Eric Rabe, senior counsel for Hacking Team, was quoted as saying that “one person’s activist is another person’s terrorist.”

RWB is of a different opinion: “If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used to spy on journalists, dissidents and netizens. If their digital surveillance products were sold to an authoritarian regime by an intermediary without their knowledge, their failure to keep track of the exports of their own software means they did not care if their technology was misused and did not care about the vulnerability of those who defend human rights.”

In the report, RWB accuses US company Blue Coat of selling its Deep Packet Inspection software capable of selective censorship of the Internet to Burma and Syria. According to the free speech campaigners, Munich-based Trovicor offered its monitoring and analysis services to the governments of Bahrain and Iran, while French Amesys sold EAGLE spyware to Libya while Muammar Gaddafi was still in power.

Finally, the FinFisher Suite, developed by UK’s own Gamma International and regarded as one of the most advanced spying tools on the market today, has surfaced in Bahrain, Egypt and several other countries around the world.

“The private sector cannot be expected to police itself,” says RWB. “Legislators must intervene. The European Union and the United States have already banned the export of surveillance technology to Iran and Syria. This praiseworthy initiative should not be an isolated one. European governments need to take a harmonised approach to controlling the export of surveillance technology.”

The organisation has sharply criticised plans for “potentially repressive legislation” such as the Communications Data Bill in the UK and FISAA and CISPA in the US, saying they would “sacrifice online freedom of expression to combating cyber-crime”.

Last year, Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of the world’s largest private security software company, waned that world governments need a cyber-weapons convention like those for chemical and nuclear arms.

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