WikiLeaks: Australian Police Spent Millions Spying on Citizens

Australia was among many countries that used FinFisher spyware to monitor its citizens' computers. (Photo: HackNY)

WikiLeaks: Australian Police Spent Millions Spying on Citizens

Police in New South Wales spent millions on high-tech, controversial spyware program FinFisher

On the same day Edward Snowden warned New Zealand residents that they were "being watched" by their government, WikiLeaks published documents showing that police in Australia used powerful spyware to conduct operations.

A new cache released on Monday showed that police departments in New South Wales (NSW) are a client of Gamma International, a German-UK technology company that develops hacking software often used by governments and police. Gamma recently came under fire for providing one of its programs, FinFisher, also known as FinSpy, to oppressive regimes like Bahrain, which used the software to monitor--and occasionally blackmail--Arab Spring activists.

NSW police were one of many law enforcement organizations that FinFisher claimed as clients. Police forces and intelligence agencies from Qatar, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Italy, among other countries, also held contracts with the surveillance company.

NSW spent more than $2 million on FinFisher's programs, some of which enabled police to have near-unlimited access to computer records and allowed them to extract files from hard drives, read emails, and monitor Skype conversations, among other invasive tactics.

Further, police in the region can obtain covert search warrants that allow them to monitor computers remotely. In one chat log between FinFisher support staff and their NSW clients, police asked for the company to create a "categorization feature" that can identify privileged information--such as emails between lawyers and clients--before investigators read it.

"A key logger captures information which is between a lawyer and a known criminal which is not an offense in itself. The captured information needs to be able to be identified as legal privilege and not used in any further intelligence capability as it is considered private," officers wrote.

NSW legislator David Shoebridge told the Guardian that the revelations were "deeply troubling."

"Information that should be privileged... is almost certainly being captured by this warrant," Shoebridge said. "It looks as if the police don't have systems to exclude it, and it's deeply troubling."

Germany recently chastised the U.S. for directing the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on German diplomats and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Shortly after revelations were made public that the CIA had bribed German defense ministry employees to monitor and report on intelligence agencies in the country for the U.S., Germany forced out its American CIA station chief, saying its Western partnerships could not work without "mutual trust and openness."

But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is Australian, said that by continuing to allow Gamma to operate in Germany, the Merkel administration betrays its own stance on privacy.

"FinFisher continues to operate brazenly from Germany selling weaponized surveillance malware to some of the most abusive regimes in the world," Assange said from the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has lived in political asylum since 2012. "The Merkel government pretends to be concerned about privacy, but its actions speak otherwise."

"This full data release will help the technical community build tools to protect people from FinFisher including by tracking down its command and control centers," Assange said.

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