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Bytes for All Petitions Pakistani Court on Presence of Surveillance Software

On May 13, 2013, Bytes for All (B4A), a Pakistani civil society group and partner in the Cyber Stewards Network, filed a petition with the Lahore High Court on the possible use of the FinFisher product suite in Pakistan. B4A has advocated for the rights of Pakistani netizens to browse the Internet free of censorship and surveillance through numerous court and government actions, including a recent petition submitted in January 2013 in protest of the ongoing censorship of YouTube.

The first hearing took place on May 13, 2013 and resulted in a court decision ordering the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to investigate the use of FinFisher software in the country. The court order further stipulated that the PTA must make a statement to the court by June 24, 2013. Further news on this court case will be posted as updates develop.

B4A’s case is based on evidence revealed by the Citizen Lab on the presence of FinFisher software in 36 countries across the globe, including Pakistan. Developed by Munich-based Gamma International GmbH, FinFisher products are marketed and sold exclusively to law enforcement and intelligence agencies by the UK-based Gamma Group. The company advertises FinFisher as a “governmental IT intrusion” software that can exfiltrate data, intercept email and instant messaging communications, and spy on users through webcams and microphones.

Activists and civil society organizations in other countries have urged government authorities to investigate the use of FinFisher in their respective jurisdictions. Human rights activists in Mexico have filed a request with the Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection (IFAI) to investigate FinFisher’s presence two Mexican ISPs. UK-based NGO Privacy International has filed for an application for judicial review regarding the refusal of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to release information about Gamma Group’s export of FinFisher. Privacy International’s case was spurred by revelations that the Bahraini government had used FinFisher software to target domestic activist Ala’a Shehabi.