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Governments Turn to Commercial Spyware to Intimidate Dissidents

Published: May 31, 2016
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NY Times Reports:

A number of companies in the United States are training foreign law enforcement and intelligence officials to code their own surveillance tools. In many cases these tools are able to circumvent security measures like encryption. Some countries are using them to watch dissidents. Others are using them to aggressively silence and punish their critics, inside and outside their borders.

“There’s no substantial regulation,” said Bill Marczak, a senior fellow at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, who has been tracking the spread of spyware around the globe. “Any government who wants spyware can buy it outright or hire someone to develop it for you. And when we see the poorest countries deploying spyware, it’s clear money is no longer a barrier.”

Mr. Marczak examined Mr. Mansoor’s emails and found that, before his arrest, he had been targeted by spyware sold by Finfisher and Hacking Team, which sell surveillance tools to governments for comparably cheap six- and seven-figure sums. Both companies sell tools that turn computers and phones into listening devices that can monitor a target’s messages, calls and whereabouts.

In 2011, in the midst of the Arab Spring, Mr. Mansoor was arrested with four others on charges of insulting Emirate rulers. He and the others had called for universal suffrage. They were quickly released and pardoned following international pressure.

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