Surveillance Software Company Gamma Found To Have Violated Human Rights; Receives Unprecedented Slap On The Wrist

from the critical-decisions dept

As Techdirt has reported on the increasingly active world of commercial spyware, one name in particular has cropped up several times: Gamma, with its FinFisher suite of spyware products. In October last year, we reported that Privacy International had filed a criminal complaint against the company with the National Cyber Crime Unit of the UK’s National Crime Agency. There’s no update on that move, but it seems that a parallel action has had more success (pdf):

British-German surveillance company Gamma has been condemned by a human rights watchdog for its failure to adhere to human rights and due diligence standards, after a two year investigation into the company’s sale of surveillance technology to Bahrain.

Here’s what Privacy International says was happening in Bahrain:

The complaint alleged that Gamma sold its notorious FinFisher intrusion software product to Bahrain as early as 2009, after which time it was used by the Bahraini government to violate the human rights of three Bahraini nationals and human rights activists, Ala’a Shehabi, Husain Abdulla and Shehab Hashem.

You’re probably wondering what the penalty is if you are found in breach of human rights in this way — clearly a serious matter. Well, here it is:

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development?s UK National Contact Point (?”CP”) concluded today that Gamma International should make changes to its business practices in order to ensure that in the future it respects the human rights of those affected by the surveillance technologies it sells.

Yes, you are told to do better next time. However, looking at things more positively, Privacy International points out:

Today’s decision is the first time that the OECD has found a companies selling surveillance technologies to be in violation of human rights guidelines, and one of the most critical decisions ever issued by the OECD. In it, the NCP sets out in strong terms that Gamma has no human rights policies and due diligence processes that would protect against the abusive use of its products.

In other words, just as with the recent court victories against the UK government over its surveillance activities, what’s important here is not so much the punishment — or lack of it — as the fact that for the first time a company selling invasive surveillance tools was condemned in this way. At the very least, it puts such companies on notice that they are being watched and will be hauled up before these kind of bodies for public shaming. Well, it’s a start.

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Companies: gamma, privacy international

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Comments on “Surveillance Software Company Gamma Found To Have Violated Human Rights; Receives Unprecedented Slap On The Wrist”

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David says:

A bit optimistic.

At the very least, it puts such companies on notice that they are being watched and will be hauled up before these kind of bodies for public shaming. Well, it’s a start.

Just look what wonders the public shaming has done for stopping the president and NSA from violating the Constitution and lying about it.

We had a solid run of about 2 years of them getting caught in their lies and crimes and perjury. You would have thought that after the first dozen times they’d change their strategy.

But to make public shaming be an actual start, you either need a public that isn’t apathetic, or someone who is capable of feeling ashamed.

And the category “feeling ashamed” is one where giving companies “person” standing is really ridiculous. Corporations do not feel ashamed for their crimes and lies. They are even worse than the president in that respect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "counting on that violence"

“counting on that violence”


Make no mistake, the powers-that-be would absolutely LOVE for you to resort to violence.

As is true with so many of the – relatively minor – violent actions of the disgruntled that the fear mongers make sure we see as often as possible in the news (and the insanely disproportionate government responses they offer as non-solution solutions), the government would instantly use your violence to further justify their own use of ever increasing violence (and the many other oppressive actions that goes along with it).

…and as a bonus, by seeking to bring change violently, you prove yourself to be no better than those you so vehemently despise.

eye sea ewe says:

Re: Re: Re:

He/She didn’t say anything about indiscriminate violence. The problem won’t be indiscriminate violence but targeted violence. The problem we shall face is that the violence already being performed by those whose job is to protect and serve will encourage those who are already positioning themselves for violence to start strategic moves that will ensure an escalation of retaliatory violence and as elsewhere the innocents will be ducking for cover.

As has been said elsewhere, the times of trouble are ahead (just around the corner) and what we currently see is in the realms of “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

There are ways to publicly shame those who are the current leaders such as the suggestion to cc all emails to the address of Senator Brandis in Australia ( in the fight against the data retention laws he has brought in. In fact you could take it even further and send email to all members of your government including the NSA and FBI and CIA and every Whitehouse email address you can find.

It won’t take long for their systems to be overloaded with 50 or 100 million citizens cc’ing emails to these fellows and to show one’s displeasure for their actions.

eye sea ewe says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You don’t seem to understand the difference between inciting violence and warning that certain actions and policies will lead to a violent reaction.

Inciting to violence: Rise up and kill the PIGs.

Warning of violent reaction: If you the police keep treating people as if they are criminals you will find that there will be a violent reaction to your behaviour and some of you will be killed.

The second may lead to some people using this as a justification and incentive to take violent action but it is a warning not incitement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "nothing will change unless things get violent"

Uhm… what about the positive changes brought about by Ghandi? Martin Luther King? …and the many other nonviolent revolutions?

Anyway, when you get a little break from your violent machinations, perhaps you’ll consider donating some money/time to one (or more) of the groups that are actually taking practical actions to help fight the surveillance state and related nonsense.

Here are just a few of the groups that are fighting the darker forces in our government/corporations on your behalf – in the courts, meetings, demonstrations, etc. – every day:

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Privacy International
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Check ’em out, then help ’em out. They do a lot of good work for us – and fewer people get hurt.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Wow. Such controversy from a short phrase.

History tells us that violence is often the recourse used, often because non-violent protest is either ineffective or unavailable.

We do like to point out Ghandi’s protest as exemplary of making non-violent revolution work, and as has been noted, even the Palestinians could probably pull something together if they could just get a few million people to cooperate and lie down at the checkpoints, and don’t move even when the police start shooting people on the ground (and they will).

Not an easy thing.

It takes far fewer people to implement a sabotage campaign. Leaving the rest of the people to work, eat, live and come to terms in time with the notion that the people with their best interests are not the ones cutting their paycheck.

But Gandhi also had culture on his side. The United States is disinclined to take crap lying down. We invaded Iraq because we’re angry. We stooped to the low of torturing and endorsing torture not because it works, not because it served a state purpose, but because some powerful people were angry, and making some Muslims suffer made them feel better.

Violence is not ridiculous. Violence doesn’t have to solve anything. Violence is inevitable. People with nothing left to lose already engage in killing rampages. Eventually there will be so many with too little to live for as to overwhelm the responders. And it may not do any good. But it won’t matter — blood will soak the streets but especially the newsprint.

If we’re going to solve things non-violently, we’re going to have to act soon instigate real change. So those of you dismissing violence need to recognize this is a descriptive prediction. A cautionary one. And if history serves, it is the end to all paths of low-resistance. Feel free to do everything possible to change this destiny, or (to paraphrase Bertrand Russel) it won’t have anything to do about what’s right, but what is left.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wow. Such controversy from a short phrase.

Violence is not inevitable. Violence is a choice.

History is full of both violent and peaceful resolutions. The only question is, which will you choose?

And I don’t think anyone’s “dismissing” violence out of hand. They’re just pointing out that it’s a course of action that shouldn’t be sought out until everything else has failed – as a violent resolution is sure to result in much suffering for everyone involved.

Perhaps a day will come when there is truly no other option than to resort to violence as one’s only means of self-defense. But that day is not today. The reality is that we have many, many other peaceful means to bring about change before that day arrives (if somehow that day is inevitably approaching).

I agree with you that implementing peaceful change is “Not an easy thing.” And it’s a slow thing. And violent retribution offers infinitely more opportunities for emotional release than do endless FOIA requests, public education campaigns, and court verdict appeals. However, by using the slow, difficult, boring, peaceful means for change, far fewer innocent people will suffer and much less destruction will be brought unto this world.

And I agree that “The United States is disinclined to take crap lying down.” So let’s not. But how about we exhaust the peaceful means first – before resorting to violence.

And I agree that “If we’re going to solve things non-violently, we’re going to have to act soon to instigate real change.” So if that’s really how you feel, then why not help out the folks that are actually acting now:

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Privacy International
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What?

Wait, wait…the peaceful solutions you’re looking to implement are in the form of endless FOIA requests, public education campaigns, and court verdict appeals? You’re trying to continue to use a system that is demonstrably broken and corrupt?

I take it back. That road inevitably ends in violence.

You want a non-violent campaign, you get five million people to plant themselves in Times Square and not move for any reason. Not tear gas. Not live bullets. Not crowd-control squads with shields and truncheons.

You want a non-violent campaign, you get your entire community to refuse to call the police for any reason. And yes, that means some crimes will go without response. That’ll mean you’ll have to develop alternative response teams for some problems.

You want a non-violent campaign, you get fifty people to plant themselves at an important, relevant landmark and go on a hunger strike, committing to starve themselves to death. Better yet, light yourselves on fire. That kind of publicity is what turns the heads of the international community. In the Western world, it’s unthinkable.

You want a non-violent campaign, you get every merchant in your town to refuse service to police officers, to the DoJ from SCOTUS down to the last janitor and clerk, to every worker for

Ridiculous is what I would call your legal charades. That won’t accomplish anything. If you want to change the system, it must be changed without, or it won’t change at all.

Remember that the status quo, is, to a considerable lot of people, entirely intolerable. Every single day is misery. And you are expecting them to wait how long for results? Years? Decades? Another century or two?

And yes, thank you. I have those links.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "So let's not."

Once again, while editing my title text, my browser spontaneously submitted upon habitually tapping the ENTER key. Maybe that shouldn’t be the default result for ENTER while in the title field.

I think you are depending to much on the notion that the human populace are rational, thinking creatures, rather than instinct-driven emotional apes. It takes one person’s choice of violence to make an event a violent one. It takes everyone’s choice to not be violent. Mind you, in Ferguson, those who chose to invoke violence were not the protestors but the alleged keepers of peace. The same thing happened to OWS. It takes a lot for one person to not panic while under fire of tear gas and rubber bullets. So with a crowd of protesters, it’s near impossible.

You cannot rely on the population to be well behaved. Nor can you rely on them to patiently wait for your legal action to have an effect. You can’t rely on them to be rational. Or pacifistic Or informed at the polls. Or tolerant of people with strange features or beliefs.

Consider that when you are planning your peaceful effort for change.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "So let's not."

Okay, assume you’re right. A few good (violent) men (and perhaps some women) take a stand against the unfair government’s overreach. For the umpteenth time, they would be killed, martial law would be imposed, and your authoritarian friends and neighbors would join in calling them terrorists.

Okay, a bigger number of people take part in this revolt. Same result.

You’ve identified the problem, Uriel-238: not enough people are willing to work to effect change. Solve that problem and you’ll see change.

The populace has been convinced that anyone who opposes the status quo is the bad guy, so anyone who violently opposes the status quo is inevitably going to be cast as a terrorist. Heck, according to some articles I’ve read here you don’t even have to be violent to acquire that designation.

That violence may erupt is a distinct possibility, but it’ll all end in tears – and lockdown. And people you know will be nodding in agreement as they enforce it because, as you rightly implied, they don’t think for themselves, they follow the herd. And the tendency of the herd is to maintain the status quo.

We need to talk, and to keep on talking until more people agree with us enough to effect that peaceful change. Remember SOPA? We did it before and can do it again. We just need to get enough people involved. And we can if we put in the effort.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It'll end in tears anyway. It ends in tears every day.

That’s rather presumptive to say they’ll all be killed or even identified. Right now, acting singletons, maybe, because its possible to redirect hundreds of officers into a manhunt for a single person. But firstly, plenty of people are being gunned down anyway because an officer fears for his safety, and secondly, law enforcement can only respond with that kind of power while violent attacks are rare and isolated. Once directed attacks against law enforcement becomes a daily occurrence (hint: it is not yet) the divertable manpower simply will not be there.

The outrage is there, and yes, it will continue to manifest in single people deciding to sacrifice their lives now for a small amount of reprisal. Talk all you want, and such people won’t change course, often because they already feel they have nothing left to lose. But that’s why I imagine an organized and targeted sabotage campaign would be a way to redirect that outrage.

In the meantime, I don’t think that lockdown, by which I assume you mean martial law or the shelter in place order given to Boston citizens after the marathon bombing in April 2013, is feasible as a response in perpetuity. Firstly, such efforts require a mobilization of a huge number of responders that are only meant to be active for short periods, and they will fatigue quickly, and secondly the inconvenience on your average citizens is immense, and it will drive home that we are an occupied nation.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 The Status Quo

Keep in mind that the number of people satisfied with the status quo is diminishing. We have 50,000 SWAT raids a year. We have the most incarcerated population per capita in the world. We also have up to an 88% conviction rate thanks to police lying and judges who will automatically take their testimony. (Unless you actually believe that law enforcement is careful to only bring in suspects they’re sure are guilty.)

On the job force, 77% of the workforce is dissatisfied with the position that they’re in. This is partially due to the reduced pay-scale, where even upper-middle managers are only getting a teacher’s salary (what was regarded a pittance in the 70s). The ratio between executive salaries and the wages at the front end are unheard of, and according to the current administration, our economy is getting better. Maybe if you look at Wall Street.

To be fair, I don’t know a proper solution, and we are fools to imagine we know what the right way to affect change is. Those that thrive in the status quo are terrified of a violent uprising, which is why they respond to even single incidents with overwhelming numbers, but they also are becoming less tolerant and less receptive of peaceful expressions of general discontent. The OWS purge was telling, that we expect protests to burn out on their own and go away without the need for negotiation. When they overstayed their welcome they were met with water cannons, riot squads and rubber bullets. Oh, and a press blackout.

So yeah. Peaceful protest was tried and rebuffed a while ago.

But my job isn’t to get creative. I, too, was raised under the myth that human beings listen to reason and act in their best interests.

No, my role is to tell you that violence, however you might feel about it, is the path of least resistance. It is possible to get creative, and I hope to the Pillars of Creation that someone is considering novel ways to unite the discontented population in a common effort. (A good example of a positive tactics change is the shift in anti-war efforts from standing protests to anti-recruitment in schools where they debunk some of the lies and myths perpetuated by recruiting offices). But expecting that everyone will just sit tight while the ACLU and the EFF wind their way through the legal system (as much as I admire the work they do) is pure folly.

Violent or not, we dissenters are branded as terrorists anyway. We just need to demonstrate that there are more kinds of terrorists than Muslim suicide bombers.

Anonymous Coward says:

yet a person was hounded so much by a state prosecutor, for downloading files to which he was perfectly entitled to have access to, that he committed suicide. as usual when it’s a member of the public, the punishment cannot be harsh enough but when a company that should know better does something TO the ordinary people, it gets told off! what a fucking joke!!

eye sea ewe says:

Re: Re:

If a company sells a product for nefarious purposes then yes one can hold them responsible. If Ford was to create a line of cars for the express purpose of being used as get-away vehicles for criminal acts and markets them as such, then they should be held liable for the use of their products in all such events.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

How many products marketed for one purpose have found other, unrelated purposes once released to the public? Just because the makers of a product have one purpose in mind, it does not preclude the possibility of another use. To imply that a manufacturer be held responsible for the manner in which a product is used goes against all the self-righteous posts on this blog. I still call Hypocrite!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Reread response.

You are still holding a producer of a good responsible for how an end user utilizes the product. That flies dead in the face of at least 500 articles on this site. Just because it was MARKETED as one thing doesn’t magically change the rules. the fault is with the user who commits the act, not the company that provides the good or service.

eye sea ewe says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Reread response.

In other words, you are saying those who sell weapons (such as tanks, rocket launchers, etc) to various individuals (dictators) and groups (drug barons, repressive regimes, terrorist organisations) have no responsibility in terms of what is done with said weapons. It’s only business. Okay, that’s one view.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Reread response.

I am merely using the same talking points that this site has used repeatedly when it comes to the internet, software and other products that have the potential to be used for nefarious purposes. It is not the maker or seller of the product, but the entity that actually USES the product in a nefarious way.

Guns, and other weapons can be used for good or evil. Without them, The allies would not have stopped Hitler or Japan. At the same time, if the US were the only country to have them, I am sure the rest of the world would be our subjects by now, based on the overreach of our government.

How is the intended use the responsibility of the seller?

If you believe have the ability to know, without a doubt, another person or government’s thoughts and intentions, then you are in the wrong business. I hear the Psychic Friends Network is hiring, or maybe you can get on the Minority Report project.

David says:

Re: Yes...

Oh no, no no no. I deny those allegations. You are probably thinking about subhumans here. That’s the same kind of difference as that between data and metadata. Totally fundamentally different. You cannot really apply the rules for one to the other if you want to be serious about following the law. We are very much committed to not mislabeling those we don’t see falling under basic protections.

Anonymous Coward says:

surveillance company and human rights, one is not like the other

Im sorry, but it is quite clear, with whats happening now, and the general behaviour of documented governments in history, that we cant even risk the IDEA of surveillance, let alone an implementation of one, ill point out, an implementation thats ALREADY implemented, CONTINUES to be implemented, IN SECRET, and at no point BEFORE was this discussed with the public to an ACEPTABLE level, history shows inevitable abuse, and this will no fucking doubt, will eventually turn into something no free society can function with……..there’ll be A society, just not a free one……..well, the 1%, they’ll probably have a twisted version of it

Anonymous Coward says:

You know, in the realms of “cyber security” one would think that a company monetizing on the sales of programs SPECIFICALLY created to hack attack unwilling subjects would be one of those first calls to port kinda thing, no

Instead we have an outside the government organisation using the corrupted system thats unfit to do the job their suppose to

Anonymous Coward says:

“The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s UK National Contact Point (“”CP”) concluded today that Gamma International should make changes to its business practices in order to ensure that in the future it respects the human rights of those affected by the surveillance technologies it sells.”

Yeah, it should shut itself down

Anonymous Coward says:

At the very least, it puts such companies on notice that they are being watched and will be hauled up before these kind of bodies for public shaming. Well, it’s a start. “

I dont know, I get the feeling that many of these companies are simply waiting for things to be ironed out so they can go on continuing unopposed…… expectation that eventually the laws will be in their favour

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