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HMRC faces High Court challenge over spy software sales

16 Apr 2013
HM Revenue and Customs

Rights group Privacy International (PI) has launched legal action against HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) over its refusal to provide details on potentially unlawful exports of controversial spyware tools made by Gamma International.

PI claimed Gamma's FinFisher tool has been deployed by governments and secret police in 25 countries, many with a history of human rights abuses.

PI's head of research, Eric King, provided HMRC with a 186-page document detailing alleged breaches of export restrictions on Gamma's FinFisher spyware in November 2012.

But HMRC refused to provide any further details of its own investigations.

“HMRC's refusal to provide information to the pro-democracy activists who have been targeted is shameful,” said King.

“In order for the public to have full confidence and faith that these issues will be addressed, we're asking the court to force HM Revenue & Customs to come clean."

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed to PI last year that Gamma's FinFisher tools would be subject to export controls should it wish to sell the software outside of the European Union.

But according to the Monk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, FinFisher command and control servers have been identified in more than 25 countries across the globe – including locations such as Bahrain, Egypt and Turkmenistan (see map).

Monk School's map of FinFisher use

FinFisher is claimed to allow snoopers to covertly install spyware on target's computers and mobile phones. Once installed, data from cameras, microphones, emails, instant messages and Skype calls can be monitored.

PI has filed its complaint to the High Court and expects the hearing to take place within a matter of months.

"HMRC cannot comment on individual cases, however, we consider all credible information we receive regarding potential breaches of UK strategic export controls and take action where we find evidence of abuse," an HMRC spokesman said.

 

Gamma International had not responded to V3's request for comment at the time of publication.

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