Many states now resort to the systematic surveillance of their citizens. In authoritarian states surveillance is all too often used as a means of oppression. With a couple of clicks, authorities in states like Syria, Bahrain, Turkey and Ethiopia can control a person’s computer or smartphone. The intercepted data is used to systematically spy on networks of political and human rights activists, journalists and political opponents. In many cases this surveillance is a precursor to further human rights violations: detention, torture, forced confessions and wrongful convictions.
The spy software and technical support for this surveillance is often provided by corporations based in European states – including the UK and Germany. This is made possible by lax export controls and regulations. The companies fail to take any responsibility for human rights violations committed through the use of their products.
ECCHR takes legal action, e.g. criminal complaints and OECD complaints, against software companies that contribute or could be contributing to serious human rights violations such as the unlawful arrest, detention and the torture of regime critics and activists.
The Munich-based companies FinFisher GmbH, FinFisher Labs GmbH and Elaman GmbH are accused of selling sorveillance software FinSpy software to Turkey without the German government’s permission. When repressive states use surveillance technology, the result has all too often been such as imprisonment and torture. Following a criminal complaint from ECCHR and its partner organizations, the prosecutor’s office in Munich has opened investigations into the case.
The Syrian intelligence services have been collecting without cause information about political opponents, members of the opposition and human rights activists. Spying often goes hand in hand with torture. Software from Western corporations may have played a role in the surveillance. In order to address this, transnational investigations have to be initiated.
British-German surveillance technology provider Gamma infringed on its human rights obligations with products such as “state trojan” FinFisher. This was confirmed by the UK’s OECD National Contact Point. In 2013, ECCHR submitted a complaint against Gamma and German firm Trovicor.