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German police conduct raids on firm suspected of exporting spyware to Turkey

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German police have carried out raids on 15 properties with links to the Munich-based surveillance software firm FinFisher over allegations that the firm illegally exported software to various countries including Turkey, Deutsche Welle reported on Wednesday.

Although Germany’s surveillance authorities, the Federal Criminal Police Office, and the Customs Investigation Bureau, use software from FinFisher, the firm is reportedly suspected of violating the terms of export licenses to sell its most important surveillance software called FinSpy to Turkey.

The software, allegedly used in Turkey to spy on opposition politicians and activists, allows users to access address books, chat messages, photographs and videos on targeted smartphones as well as listen in on telephone conversations.

In May 2018 several German media outlets reported that FinSpy was used in Turkey to target supporters of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) during three week of protests in July 2017 organized by the party against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The protests took the form of a “Justice March” from Ankara to İstanbul led by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to criticize Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian regime in the aftermath of a referendum that gave Erdoğan enhanced powers.

Through fake social media accounts the demonstrators were reportedly tricked into installing a smartphone application that contained a mobile version of the FinFisher spying software.

According to DW, managing directors and employees at the surveillance software firm have been investigated by the Munich Public Prosecutor’s Office for “suspected violations of the Foreign Trade and Payments Act.”

The investigation was reportedly launched in 2019 based on a criminal complaint filed by anti-surveillance NGOs Reporters Without Borders, Netzpolitik.org, the Society for Civil Rights (GFF) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

The NGOs claimed FinFisher’s software had been installed on the devices of activists, political dissidents and regular citizens in countries with oppressive regimes.

To avoid misuse, strict laws govern how surveillance software can be exported in Germany, where such products must be approved for export by the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA), part of the Economy Ministry.

According to an analysis of its source code by digital rights group Access Now, FinSpy was written in 2016, and Germany’s Economy Ministry has issued no new permits for spyware since 2015. The NGOs, therefore, argue that the software must have been exported without a permit.

Konstantin von Notz, deputy faction leader of the German opposition Green Party, called on the government to end its cooperation with FinFisher, saying, “German and European surveillance and censorship software contribute to massive human rights violations worldwide.”

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