Police in the Australian state of New South Wales are using spyware that has been linked to repressive states known for monitoring political dissidents, according to documents published by WikiLeaks.
The documents list NSW police as customers of surveillance software called FinSpy, also known as FinFisher, which can be used to spy on smartphones and PCs. The software, which can read emails and encrypted files and listen to VoIP calls, is sold to governments and law enforcement agencies by Gamma International, which has branches in the UK and Germany.
Gamma International’s FinSpy software is also capable of extracting files from PCs, capturing screen shots, logging keystrokes and monitoring chat communications. The WikiLeaks documents show that NSW police have used Gamma International’s surveillance software for a number of investigations at a cost of more than $2m, according to The Guardian.
NSW police are able to apply to the supreme court for a special type of covert search warrant that allows for the remote monitoring of computers, the paper said. The WikiLeaks revelations are deeply concerning, the paper quoted Greens Member of the Legislative Council David Shoebridge as saying.
“Information that should be privileged, including communications with a lawyer or information that’s well beyond the scope of the warrant, is almost certainly being captured by this warrant. It looks as if the police don’t have systems to exclude it, and it’s deeply troubling,” he said.
Shoebridge also said the documents highlight the need for a public interest monitor in New South Wales to ensure there is sufficient scrutiny over the warrant process. Despite the substantial costs associated with the software, the paper noted there are no online tender records of Gamma International or any of its subsidiaries holding contracts with the NSW police.
According to reports, the NSW police has refused to comment. Along with NSW police, current FinSpy licence holders include the Netherlands national police, Mongolia, Estonia, Singapore and the secret services of Hungary, Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Former FinSpy licence holders include Belgium, Italy, South Africa, Bahrain, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and state security in Slovakia and Qatar.
“FinFisher continues to operate brazenly from Germany, selling weaponised surveillance malware to some of the most abusive regimes in the world,” said Julian Assange, the Australian WikiLeaks editor in chief, who is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
“The Merkel government pretends to be concerned about privacy, but its actions speak otherwise. Why does the Merkel government continue to protect FinFisher? “This full data release will help the technical community build tools to protect people from FinFisher, including by tracking down its command and control centres,” said Assange. The leaked documents published by WikiLeaks came to light following the hacking of Gamma International in August, reports Australia’s The Age.
The hack exposed an estimated 40GB of internal data from the firm detailing the operations and effectiveness of the FinFisher suite of surveillance platforms.