British-German surveillance technology provider Gamma International infringed on its human rights obligations with products such as “state trojan” FinFisher. This was confirmed in February 2015 by the UK’s OECD National Contact Point (NCP) on Thursday in the final assessment of a complaint submitted by human rights groups.
The NCP calls on Gamma – explicitly including other companies affiliated with the corporation – to implement effective human rights standards. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch, ECCHR, Privacy International and Reporters Without Borders in 2013 submitted a complaint at the NCP in London against Gamma, and a parallel complaint at the German NCP against Munich-based surveillance company Trovicor GmbH. The non-governmental organizations accuse the companies of sharing a responsibility for arrests, imprisonments and torture of opposition members, journalists and dissidents in the Arab Gulf state of Bahrain by supplying surveillance technology and technical support.
Since the dawn of the Arab Spring, the use of systematic surveillance of telecommunications as a tool to repress peaceful protest movements has become a common problem. Since the start of the mass protests in February 2011, the Arab Gulf State of Bahrain has used information obtained through intercepted telephone and internet connections to secure arrests of and extract confessions from dissidents. Such actions are facilitated by high-performance technologies, the use of which could only be justified if strictly bound by the highest rule of law standards.
There is evidence to suggest that Trovicor maintains software in Bahrain, among other places, which allows security authorities and secret services to intercept, record and analyze large amounts of telephone and computer data. There are further indications that Trovicor’s technologies are designed to facilitate socalled trojans, hacking programs that allow for more far-reaching surveillance and even the manipulation of data. One such invasive program, Gamma’s FinFisher, was found on the computers of Bahraini oppositionists.
The British OECD NCP criticized that Gamma did not put in place a due diligence process and did not commit to any binding standards for the observance of human rights. Moreover, the company did not cooperate with the NCP to the necessary extent. In spite of overwhelming publicly accessible evidence, Gamma refused to provide information on the sale of FinFisher technology to Bahrain.
The NCP invokes that it is not equipped with investigatory powers of its own, and therefore could not confirm this specific accusation. The German NCP, which is tied to the Federal Ministry of Economy, rejected the complaint against Trovicor in December 2013, deciding that it could “only conduct a further examination of the general risk management of Trovicor.” It considered the evidence regarding other topics of the complaint as not substantial enough to warrant further scrutiny.