By Boo Su-Lyn
The Malaysian Insider
Mar 14, 2013
KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Malaysia is among 25 countries using off-the-shelf spyware to keep tabs on citizens by secretly grabbing images off computer screens, recording video chats, turning on cameras and microphones, and logging keystrokes, US newspaper the New York Times (NYT) reported yesterday.
Besides Malaysia, researchers at Citizen Lab based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs found that the United States, Singapore, Indonesia and Britain also used the surveillance software known as FinSpy.
“Rather than catching kidnappers and drug dealers, it looks more likely that it is being used for politically motivated surveillance,” security researcher Morgan Marquis-Boire was quoted by NYT as saying.
Martin J. Muench, managing director of Gamma Group — a British company that sells FinSpy — has reportedly said that Gamma Group sold its technology to governments solely to monitor criminals, and that it was most often used against “paedophiles, terrorists, organised crime, kidnapping and human trafficking”.
Marquis-Boire, however, pointed out that the software was open to abuse, saying: “If you look at the list of countries that Gamma is selling to, many do not have a robust rule of law.”
Other countries with servers running FinSpy include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, Qatar, Serbia, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
Global human rights group Human Rights Watch said in its 2013 report that Malaysia has yet to ratify core human rights treaties, despite being a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
It added that Putrajaya continued to violate the rights to free association and public assembly last year, besides decreasing freedom of expression by amending the Evidence Act.
FinSpy was used in emails targeted at political dissidents in Ethiopia and on Android phones in Vietnam, according to Marquis-Boire’s report published on the Citizen Lab website yesterday.
FinSpy was also found in emails targeting Bahraini activists last July. Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Communications also ran FinSpy off its own computer system, according to the report.
Human Rights Watch called Turkmenistan last month one of the most repressive governments in the world.
“Our findings highlight the increasing dissonance between Gamma’s public claims that FinSpy is used exclusively to track ‘bad guys’ and the growing body of evidence suggesting that the tool has and continues to be used against opposition groups and human rights activists,” said the Citizen Lab report.