Criminal complaint against illegal export of surveillance software is making an impact

FinFisher group ceases business operations after its accounts are seized by Public Prosecutor's Office


Following a criminal complaint filed by the Society for Civil Rights (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte e.V.), Reporters without Borders (RSF), the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and over illegal exports of surveillance software, the Munich-based corporate group FinFisher has ceased its business operations. The Public Prosecutor's Office Munich announced that it had seized the company's accounts, after which FinFisher GmbH and two partner companies filed for insolvency.

"FinFisher is dead. Its business with illegal exports of surveillance software to repressive regimes has failed. This is a direct success of our criminal complaint," stressed Sarah Lincoln, lawyer and case coordinator for GFF.

FinFisher GmbH and its partner companies produced and distributed the FinSpy "state Trojan" software worldwide. Using this spyware, police and secret services can pinpoint a person's location, record their telephone conversations and chats and read all their mobile phone and computer data. "The use of spyware is a massive encroachment on the personal rights of those affected, which can have dramatic consequences, especially in countries with repressive regimes – for journalists and their sources, as well as for activists and members of the opposition," said Lisa Dittmer, Advocacy Officer for Internet Freedom at Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Germany.

The export of such surveillance software to countries outside the EU has been subject to prior authorisation throughout Europe since 2015, with violations being punishable by law. The German government has not issued any export licences for surveillance software since 2015. Nevertheless, current versions of the FinSpy surveillance software keep turning up in countries with repressive regimes, including Turkey, Egypt and Myanmar. A broad alliance of human rights and press freedom organisations has been campaigning for years for a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology. It wants the moratorium to apply until an appropriate legal framework that is valid worldwide has been created.

"So far companies like FinFisher have been able to export their products worldwide virtually unhindered, despite European export regulations. The criminal investigations were long overdue and will hopefully lead to the swift indictment and conviction of the responsible business executives," said Miriam Saage-Maaß, legal director of the ECCHR. "But beyond these proceedings, the EU and its member states must take far more decisive action against the massive abuse of surveillance technology."

In 2020, the Public Prosecutor's Office Munich had already ordered a raid of the companies' business premises and several private residences. With the seizure of the companies' bank accounts, the Public Prosecutor's Office now wanted to ensure that the illegally obtained profits could be confiscated after a conviction. This undertaking failed because the companies in question filed for insolvency shortly after. reported in detail on these developments this morning.

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