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Alinda Vermeer's picture

On Monday, Privacy International submitted a dossier to the National Cyber Crime Unit of the National Crime Agency on behalf of Ethiopian political refugee Tadesse Kersmo, asking them to investigate the potentially unlawful interception of Tadesse's communications, as well as the role a British company played in developing and exporting the invasive commercial surveillance software called FinSpy that was found on Tadesse's computer.

Here, we address some of the legal questions surrounding the complaint.

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Edin Omanovic's picture

Political activist and university lecturer Tadesse Kersmo believed that he was free from intrusive surveillance when he was granted political asylum in the UK. Instead, he was likely subject to more surveillance than ever. His case underlines the borderless nature of advanced surveillance technologies and why it represents such a massive problem.

In the past, those fleeing conflict or persecution could reasonably expect a degree of respite if they managed to escape their circumstances. However, the nature of modern surveillance and its ability to facilitate oppression has changed this. When it comes to surveillance, familiar concepts of borders and nation states are becoming increasingly irrelevant. For refugees, this has grave implications.

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Dr Richard Tynan's picture

In the ongoing story about the possible surveillance of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission in Ireland, a number of new details have emerged from Verrimus, the security consultancy agency tasked with investigating the spying. A recent Irish Independent report levelled a number of criticisms at Verrimus, saying that Verrimus in fact detected their own UK phones during their sweep and that they erroneously claimed this to be evidence of a UK IMSI Catcher.

In response to the Independent’s claims, Verrimus stated:

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Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

Post updated on 14 April to reflect response from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and on 23 April to reflect response from the Communications Security Establishment Canada.

Would you like to read the current international agreements establishing the intelligence sharing arrangements that underpin the work of the NSA and GCHQ? The rules that govern massive, coordinated communications surveillance operations, hacking, and the exploitation of networks and devices in the name of national security and the public interest?

What about the guidelines that set the boundaries of what certain cooperating intelligence agencies can and cannot do to the citizens of their own countries, and to foreigners?

Well, you can’t.

Blog
Alinda Vermeer's picture

After suffering years of persistent harassment, violence, and surveillance at the hands of his oppressive government, Tadesse Kersmo had enough. Tired of living under constant monitoring, Tadesse and his wife escaped Ethiopia, where they had been politically active for years, and were granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2009.

It was only a few years later that they discovered that this escape was an illusion, and that they had been followed from Ethiopia to England. He may have left his country, but Tadesse was still a target.

He wasn’t followed physically, however - the surveillance was much more clandestine. Tadesse appears to have been tracked through his computer via a Trojan that is part of a commercial intrusion kit called FinFisher.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

This post, written by Privacy International Research Officer Anna Crowe, originally appeared on the New Zealand Human Rights Blog, a website dedicated to discussion and debate on issues relating to Human Rights in New Zealand and around the world.


While domestic debates around the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) have focused on its role in spying on New Zealanders, more questions need to be asked about its involvement in mass surveillance of the electronic communications of people living outside New Zealand. Now the European Parliament, a body directly elected by the citizens of the 28 countries of the European Union (EU), is taking New Zealand to task for spying on Europeans’ communications.

Blog
Dr Richard Tynan's picture

The recent revelations surrounding the bugging of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has raised a number of important questions about the use of surveillance technologies in Ireland, including whether fake base stations were deployed in order to monitor mobile networks near GSOC's office.

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Dr Gus Hosein's picture

Bulk metadata collection. The tapping of undersea fibre optic cables. Sabotaging internet security standards. Cyber Attacks. Hacking.

In almost every week since last summer, a new Snowden document has been released which details the growing surveillance powers and practices of intelligence agencies, each one astonishing in its own right. The documents have exposed the illegal activities and intrusive capabilities of the UK’s intelligence agency, GCHQ, which has secretly sought to exploit and control every aspect of our global communications systems.    

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Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

The current legal framework governing intelligence activities in the UK is unfit for purpose in the modern digital era, and reform is urgently needed.

With this in mind, today Privacy International responded to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s call for evidence, addressing the question, “Whether the legal framework which governs the security and intelligence agencies’ access to the content of private communications is ‘fit for purpose’, given the developments in information technology since they were enacted.”

While we welcome scrutiny of the UK’s legal framework, we do have concerns about the process. In a separate letter sent to the ISC, Privacy International along with Big Brother Watch and Liberty called on Parliament to establish a full and independent inquiry, given the deeply flawed nature of this present investigation.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

While revelations about NSA mass surveillance dominated the news in late 2013, a less well-publicised scandal was engulfing the Australian intelligence services, which had just raided the offices of a lawyer representing the small nation of East Timor in an international case against Australia.

The case concerns allegations that Australia spied on East Timor’s cabinet during sensitive commercial negotiations over oil and gas revenues. If true, this was spying on the basis of greed, to exploit the unequal relationship between Australia, a rich, developed country, and East Timor, a newly established state emerging from decades of violence and oppression.

The case exposes shocking conduct by Australia – a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement - and aptly illustrates the need to reign in intelligence services to bring them within the international rule of law.

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