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New tool for spy victims to detect government surveillance

A new tool to enable journalists and human rights defenders to scan their computers for known surveillance spyware has been released today by Amnesty International and a coalition of human rights and technology organizations.

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.

“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.

“Detekt is a simple tool that will alert activists to such intrusions so they can take action. It 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.”

Developed by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri, Detekt is being launched in partnership with Amnesty International, Digitale Gesellschaft, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International.

The adoption and trade in communication surveillance technologies has grown exponentially in recent years.

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

Some surveillance technology is widely available on the internet; while other more sophisticated alternatives are developed by private companies based in developed countries and sold to state law enforcement and intelligence agencies in countries that persistently commit human rights violations.

FinFisher, a German firm that used to be part of UK-based Gamma International, developed the spyware 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.

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 authorizing the transfer.

“Detekt is a great tool which can help activists stay safe but ultimately, the only way to prevent these technologies from being used to violate or abuse human rights is to establish and enforce strict controls on their use and trade," said Marek Marczynski.

Amnesty International will use its networks to help activists across the world learn about Detekt and scan their devices for signs of spyware. It will also engage in testing with its local partners and networks who are considered at high-risk of being targeted by such spyware.