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FinFisher spyware violated human rights guidelines, says UK watchdog

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Today, a British human rights watchdog condemned private surveillance vendor Gamma International for violating human rights guldelines through its sale of the FinFisher spyware program. Based in London and Frankfurt, Gamma had been criticized for selling to repressive governments in Bahrain and Ethiopia, who used the software to target activists in exile. Today's decision was issued by the British government's contact point to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international forum to promote global well-being. Because many of the targeted activists had taken refuge in Britain, the government took particular exception to the spyware, calling today's ruling "one of the most critical decisions ever issued by the OECD."

Similar to spyware implants developed by the NSA and GCHQ, FinFisher was sold on the open market, leading many to call for stronger export restrictions against surveillance software. At the same time, many researchers criticized the export restrictions as an overly broad restriction on free speech. The OECD's judgment has no legal force, but it suggests spyware critics are building momentum for their case and gives surveillance vendors a good reason to choose their clients more carefully. "Today’s judgement is a watershed moment recognizing that surveillance companies such as Gamma cannot shirk their human rights obligations," says Eric King of Privacy International.