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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 04.10.2023, 11:08

Latvia among countries whose governments use surveillance software to spy on citizens

BC, Riga, 20.03.2013.Print version
Cyber-security experts have revealed that governments in 25 countries, including Latvia, are using FinSpy software to spy on citizens, reports LETA, referring to the newspaper New York Times.

The software was unveiled by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs' security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire and Bill Marczak, a computer science doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley.


They found that suspicious e-mails contained surveillance software that could grab images off computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The word FinSpy appeared in the spyware code. FinSpy is spyware sold by the Gamma Group, a British company that says it sells monitoring software to governments solely for criminal investigations.


Marquis-Boire and Marczak have found evidence that FinSpy is being run off servers in 25 countries, including countries like Ethiopia, Latvia and Serbia, without oversight.


Until Marquis-Boire and Marczak stumbled upon FinSpy last May, security researchers had tried, unsuccessfully, for a year to track it down. FinSpy gained notoriety in March 2011 after protesters raided Egypt’s state security headquarters and discovered a document that appeared to be a proposal by the ''Gamma Group'' to sell FinSpy to the government of President Hosni Mubarak, the New York Times points out.


Evidence suggests the software is being sold to governments where the potential for abuse is high. ''If you look at the list of countries that Gamma is selling to, many do not have a robust rule of law,'' Marquis-Boire said. ''Rather than catching kidnappers and drug dealers, it looks more likely that it is being used for politically motivated surveillance.''


The ''New York Times'' points out that sale of surveillance technology is still largely unregulated, but Marquis-Boire and Marczak’s findings have prompted greater scrutiny. Responding to their findings last fall, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle called for an Europe-­wide ban on the export of surveillance technology to repressive regimes. And last month, ''Privacy International'' and other groups filed complaints with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development against Gamma Group and Trovicor GmbH, a German company that also sells surveillance software.


''I don’t think you can put technology back in the bottle,'' said Marquis-Boire. ''I understand why police would want to use this type of technology, but I’m just not for commercial companies selling them to non-democratic regimes with questionable human rights records.'

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