Security Researchers Sued For Exposing Internet Filtering Company's Sale Of Censorship Software To Blacklisted Country
from the 'you're-making-us-look-bad'-said-company-caught-looking-bad dept
Nothing says "Please
stop keep talking about the bad stuff we do" quite like a bogus defamation lawsuit. Citizen Lab, which has reported on a great number of tech companies that are less than discriminating in their selection of customers (think Hacking Team), has been served with a lawsuit by a purveyor of internet censorship software.
On January 20, 2016, Netsweeper Inc., a Canadian Internet filtering technology service provider, filed a defamation suit with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The University of Toronto and myself were named as the defendants. The lawsuit in question pertained to an October 2015 report of the Citizen Lab, “Information Controls during Military Operations: The case of Yemen during the 2015 political and armed conflict,” and related comments to the media. Netsweeper sought $3,000,000.00 in general damages; $500,000.00 in aggravated damages; and an “unascertained” amount for “special damages.”
Netsweeper apparently was less than amused by Citizen Lab's insistence on reporting facts, including the nasty one about it supplying internet filtering software to a country whose government has been blacklisted by the United Nations. You know, things like this:
The research confirms that Internet filtering products sold by the Canadian company Netsweeper have been installed on and are presently in operation in the state-owned and operated ISP YemenNet, the most utilized ISP in the country.
Netsweeper products are being used to filter critical political content, independent media websites, and all URLs belonging to the Israeli (.il) top-level domain.
These new categories of censorship are being implemented by YemenNet, which is presently under the control of the Houthis (an armed rebel group, certain leaders and allies of which are targeted by United Nations Security Council sanctions).
Netsweeper was given a chance to defend itself against Citizen Lab's allegations before the report was made public.
We sent a letter by email directly to Netsweeper on October 9, 2015. In that letter we informed Netsweeper of our findings, and presented a list of questions. We noted: “We plan to publish a report reflecting our research on October 20, 2015. We would appreciate a response to this letter from your company as soon as possible, which we commit to publish in full alongside our research report.”
Netsweeper never replied.
Rather than meet the situation head on, Netsweeper chose to hang back and lob a lawsuit at Citizen Lab after it published its report. Fortunately for the security researchers, Netsweeper has chosen to drop its lawsuit entirely, possibly because pursuing the questionable defamation claims would have put it up against Ontarios's version of anti-SLAPP laws: the Protection of Public Participation Act.
The world of security research is still a dangerous place. When researchers aren't being arrested for reporting on their findings, they're being sued for exposing security flaws and highly-questionable behavior. It's a shame there aren't more built-in protections for researchers, who tend to receive a lot of legal heat just for doing their job.