UK faces legal action over spyware sales to brutal regimes

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Campaign group Privacy International has launched legal action against the British government for allowing the sale of surveillance technology to repressive regimes.

While the Export Control Act 2002 gives the government the power to restrict exports that could contribute to internal repression or breaches of human rights, it's not doing so, says the organization.

"British companies have been peddling their wares to repressive regimes for years now. Publicly condemning the abuses of dictators like Al-Assad while turning a blind eye to the fact that British technologies may be facilitating these abuses is the worst kind of hypocrisy," says head of research Eric King.

"The government must stop exports of British surveillance technologies to despotic regimes before more harm is done."

Privacy International has now written to  the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, asking why, despite repeated requests, the government hasn't done so.

It cites reports that that Egyptian dissidents found a proposal document from the UK's Gamma International in the ransacked headquarters of Mubarak's secret police service.

Gamma appears to have been pitching its FinFisher suite, a range of malicious software that infects a computer or mobile device using a fake update from what appears to be a legitimate source like iTunes, Blackberry or Adobe Flash.

There's also evidence the software's been used in Turkmenistan, says PI.

It's given the government 21 days to respond - following which, it says, it will file for judicial review. It may also seek an urgent injunction preventing British companies from maintaining and updating systems already sold to repressive regimes, and halting any new exports.