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This handy new tool could stop a government from spying on you

Amnesty International said Governments are increasingly using technology to access activists and journalists’ private emails and computers.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

A NEW TOOL to allow spy victims avoid government surveillance has been released today by Amnesty International and a coalition of human rights and technology organisations.

It will enable journalists and human rights defenders to scan their computers for known surveillance spyware. 

Under surveillance 

Detekt is the first tool to be made available to the public that detects major known surveillance spyware, some of which is used by governments, in computers and mobile devices.

Amnesty International said that 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,” said Marek Marczynski, Head of Military, Security and Police at Amnesty International.

So, how does this new tool work?

Detekt will alert activists to such intrusions on their computers so they can take action.

The Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports, of which Amnesty International is a member, estimates the annual global trade in surveillance technologies to be worth $5 billion, and that figure is growing all the time.

While some surveillance technology is widely available on the internet, other more sophisticated alternatives are developed by private companies, which are then sold to state law enforcement and intelligence agencies in countries that persistently commit human rights violations, said the organisation.

Monitoring emails 

One surveillance spyware is FinFisher, a German firm that used to be part of UK-based Gamma International. Amnesty International claims it developed FinSpy which can be used to monitor Skype conversations, extract files from hard drives, record microphone use and emails, and even take screenshots and photos using a device’s camera.

According to research carried out by Citizen Lab and information published by Wikileaks, Finfisher was used to spy on prominent human rights lawyers and activists in Bahrain.

Marczynski said that this new tool 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”.

The tool is developed by German security researcher Claudio Guarnieri, and is being launched in partnership with Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International.

Amnesty International is urging governments to establish strict trade controls requiring national authorities to assess the risk that the surveillance equipment would be used to violate human rights before authorising the transfer.

Detekt is a free and open source software. For more information about Detekt click here>

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