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Anti-spy groups want software firms held accountable for snooping

Companies that sell invasive spying software to oppressive regimes around the world, should be held accountable. That’s according to the Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports (CAUSE) which has just been launched in Brussels, Belgium.

Made up of representatives from a variety of other rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Privacy International among others, the group plans to target companies that specifically use unlawful methods of tracking and spying, such as malware or trojans. Most often this sort of software is used by governments to track protesters or political opponents, as well as listening in to phone calls.

While that sort of system was used by the NSA and GCHQ, CAUSE is clear it’s not going after the users of the software, but rather the companies that make and export it.

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CAUSE’s official site features an interactive map of all those companies that have been found selling spy software overseas

These aren’t hackers or software coders in far flung corners of the world writing these viruses and tracking programs though, some of them are right under our noses. One company CAUSE is looking to go after is British based FinFisher, which purportedly made spy software that was used against an Ethiopian refugee living in the UK. Irish Firm Adaptive Mobile is also accused of peddling spy software, selling phone monitoring technology to Iran.

When you consider the News of the World phone hacking scandal is still fresh in many people’s memory, it’s clear that this group has its work cut out for it.

“These technologies enable regimes to crush dissent or criticism, chill free speech and destroy fundamental rights,” said Ara Marcen Naval of Amnesty International (via Wired). “The Cause coalition has documented cases where communication surveillance technologies have been used, not only to spy on peoples’ private lives, but also to assist governments to imprison and torture their critics.”

CAUSE wants governments in countries around the world to ban the sale of illegal spy software to countries that would use it against its own people and introduce international trade laws to govern the spy software trade going forward.

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