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In the media
The Guardian
Publication date: 
Alexandra Topping
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The campaign group Privacy International alleges the equipment has been used to gather information on activists who are targeted by the repressive regimes. It wants greater restrictions on the export of surveillance products, which are increasingly being used but are increasingly used but have not had the same level of export restrictions as traditional weapons. The group has sent a 186-page report to Revenue and Customs (HMRC) alleging that the unlicensed export of some Gamma International products "would amount to criminal conduct".

"For years, British companies like Gamma International have had carte blanche to sell incredibly powerful surveillance technologies to any government that can afford them, even when they are subsequently used to target human rights defenders. Gamma International is one of the worst culprits; it does business with regimes that most companies would not touch with a bargepole," said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International.

The organisation argues that Gamma – which insists it does comply with export controls – has been exporting its products without licences in place and has called on HMRC to investigate.


Privacy International says the rules in place were insufficient and wants controls on surveillance technology overhauled. "The fact that some controls have been in place for over a decade but appear not to have been enforced suggests the government policy on this kind of technology is patchy at best. We need to ensure all surveillance technology is properly controlled: these are digital arms and need to be treated with the same vigour as traditional weaponry," said King.

The organisation argues that Gamma had a responsibility before it was explicitly informed by the business department to check if it needed an export licence and have the necessary licences in place.


Privacy International's document to the HMRC also alleges that Bahraini pro-democracy activists received emails containing malware that, when analysed by researchers at the Toronto-based Citizen Lab, contained "strong evidence that the malware in question was "FinSpy … distributed by Gamma International". Gamma said: "We have no knowledge of any operation involving those named in the article."

Eric King's picture

Privacy International’s campaign for effective export controls of surveillance technology is still ongoing, but for one company, action can already be taken by HM Revenue & Customs to hold stop their unethical practices. Here is the story so far...

Press release

Privacy International has called upon HM Revenue & Customs to investigate potentially illegal exports by the British company Gamma International, which has been exporting surveillance products without a license to repressive regimes with dismal human rights records. 

On Friday 9th November, Privacy International's Eric King wrote to HMRC with a 186-page dossier of evidence against Gamma. HMRC is the body responsible for enforcing export regulations and policies set by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and has the power to bring criminal proceedings against companies that disregard these rules.

Eric King's picture

Privacy International has compiled data on the privacy provisions in national constitutions around the world, including which countries have constitutional protections, whether they come from international agreements, what aspects of privacy are actually protected and when those protections were enacted. We are pleased to make this information available under a Creative Commons license for organizations, researchers, students and the community at large to use to support their work (and hopefully contribute to a greater understanding of privacy rights).

The categories

Though the right to privacy exists in several international instruments, the most effective privacy protections come in the form of constitutional articles. Varying aspects of the right to privacy are protected in different ways by different countries. Broad categories include:

Emma Draper's picture

Bloomberg reported today that security researchers have identified FinFisher spyware - "one of the world’s best-known and elusive cyber weapons" - in malicious emails sent to Bahraini pro-democracy activists, including a naturalized U.S. citizen who owns gas stations in Alabama, a London-based human rights activist and a British-born economist in Bahrain.

Analysis of the emails by CitizenLab (a project based within the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs) revealed that they contained trojans that infected the target device and then proceeded to take screen shots, intercept voice-over-Internet calls and transmit a record of every keystroke to a computer in the Bahraini capital Manama. The computer code of the malicious program contained multiple instances of the word 'FinSpy'.

Press release

The charity's lawyers, Bhatt Murphy, have written to the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills asking why, despite repeated requests, the government has failed to take any concrete steps to stop British surveillance technology being exported to regimes that routinely engage in internal repression and serious human rights breaches including unlawful detention, torture and enforced disappearance.

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