Web tool detects government spyware

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Published: Thursday 20th November 2014 by The News Editor

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A new web tool has been released that enables people to scan their devices for known surveillance spyware used by governments in computers and mobiles.

Developed by Amnesty International alongside a coalition of technology and human rights organisations, the tool, called Detekt, has been made available to the public to download, and can identify the presence of spyware within systems.

Marek Marczynski, the head of military, security and police at Amnesty, said: “Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists and journalists’ private emails and remotely turn on their computer’s camera or microphone to secretly record their activities.

“They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed. Detekt is a simple tool that will alert activists to such intrusions so they can take action. It represents a strike back against governments who are using information obtained through surveillance to arbitrarily detain, illegally arrest and even torture human rights defenders and journalists.”

Amnesty says this new tool is the first step in fighting back against government surveillance, an industry that they say is growing. According to the Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports, of which Amnesty is a member, trade in surveillance technologies is worth more than £3 billion.

Last year, computer analyst Edward Snowden turned whistleblower as he leaked thousands of top secret documents exposing a global network of surveillance taking place under the command of the US’s National Security Agency (NSA), as well as the UK’s GCHQ.

Mr Snowden has since fled to Russia where he is living in exile.

A new data surveillance bill has been fast-tracked through Westminster that will give authorities greater powers to access mobile data for up to a year as part of security measures and checks.

Mr Snowden is one of several high-profile figures calling for more rights to be offered to internet users to help protect their privacy.

Earlier this year, the former NSA employee appeared on-stage via video link with Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, to call for a “bill of rights” to be introduced to protect global internet users.

During the talk, Sir Tim called Mr Snowden “a hero” for the work he had done for internet privacy.

Amnesty International are also calling on governments to establish new trade controls that monitor the movement of spyware, and analyse whether it could violate human rights. The charity claims that information published on Wikileaks shows that spyware manufactured in Germany has been used to monitor human rights lawyers and activists in Bahrain.

“Detekt is a great tool which can help activists stay safe but ultimately, the only way to prevent these technologies from being used to violate or abuse human rights is to establish and enforce strict controls on their use and trade,” said Mr Marczynski.

Emma Carr, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch said that tools like Detekt were only the beginning, and called for more accountability.

“Anything that highlights the State surveillance of citizens is to be welcomed, but finding that you are a victim of surveillance is only part of the problem. The opportunity to seek redress is limited and where possible an arduous process for a member of the public to tackle.

“Until the government introduces a rigorous process of authorisation, oversight and accessible redress for surveillance practices, it is inevitable that innocent people will continue to be spied on by the State. That will persist whether we know about the surveillance, or not.”

Published: Thursday 20th November 2014 by The News Editor

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