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Leaked: Bahrain's government spied on activists using FinFisher software

"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks." - Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Leaked documents allegedly belonging to UK-based surveillance software company Gamma International suggest that Bahrain's government has used the technology to spy on activists
Leaked documents allegedly belonging to UK-based surveillance software company Gamma International suggest that Bahrain's government has used the technology to spy on activists

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) expressed concern over violations of the right of privacy as new evidence emerges of the systematic surveillance practices used by the government of Bahrain.

Activists and human rights defenders in Bahrain have been the target of technological surveillance by Bahraini officials with the help of the FinFisher software “FinSpy”, provided by the UK-German company Gamma Group International.

An in-depth report by Bahrain Watch revealed new evidence on 7 August 2014 confirming that Gamma Group has been selling their spyware to Bahrain. The company previously denied this, but the revelations show that they have apparently been contracted to spy on a number of human rights lawyers, activists and journalists in Bahrain and abroad. Read the full report by Bahrain Watch here.

FinFisher is a spyware product manufactured by the Gamma Group; the company states that its spyware offers "world-class offensive techniques for information gathering."

According to FinFisher's promotional materials, the spyware can be "used to access target systems, giving full access to stored information with the ability to take control of the target system's functions to the point of capturing encrypted data and communications." What this means in essence, is that the Bahraini government can use this software to remotely monitor all activity on a computer, and even remotely activate the web camera and microphone, without the user's knowledge.

The Bahraini government is known for prosecuting individuals for their digital content including public tweets and less public chatting messages, where a man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for a WhatsApp message.

Many of those who were arrested have reported torture in detention. In an environment where the right to privacy is violated, freedom of speech online is criminalized and practice of torture is systematic, it is greatly concerning that technology providers continue to aid the Bahraini regime with tools that can be used to violate the rights of the citizens.

The sale and export of surveillance tools is virtually unregulated by international law. Spyware providers say that they sell their products to governments for "lawful purposes". But activists allege that their governments violate national laws in the often politically motivated use of such software. BCHR believes that companies should be held accountable for selling spyware to governments with a proven track record of targeting human rights defenders, activists and political groups.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights calls on the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union, and all other close allies of Bahrain to:

  • Issue an export ban on all digital surveillance technologies to Bahrain, and launch an immediate investigation into the relationship between Gamma Group International and the Bahraini government;
  • Pressure the government of Bahrain to end the targeting of human rights defenders, activists, and political organizations both in terms of digital and physical harassment.

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