In July of 2015, 400 gigabytes of documents outlining the dealings of spyware company Hacking Team were released. The for-profit surveillance firm was found to work with oppressive regimes across the globe, including those of Russia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. Also benefiting from the company’s exploitive surveillance tools is the US Bureau of Investigation, which has spent $775,000 on Hacking Team tools since 2011.
Hacking Team’s abilities are expansive. The firm can steal pre-encrypted data and passwords typed in Web browsers, as well as activate the microphone and camera on a target device. Users of Google Play and Apple stores may also be activating surveillance malware coded by Hacking Team.
Privacy and human rights advocates are outraged by the lack of legislation regulating firms like Hacking Team and its rival Gamma International, but regulation can be tricky. Badly drafted export controls could create red tape for journalists to circumvent when trying to access communications mechanisms or antivirus software. Syrian activists, for example, have cited American export controls as one of the leading obstacles of installing anti-surveillance software on phones and computers to protect their communications from the Assad regime.
The discussion is subtle, as it must take into account the personal liberties of global citizens, the dynamic nature of the technology industry, and the diverse interests of country governments.
Article via Committee to Protect Journalists, July 13, 2015