EFF draws attention to Ethiopian Internet surveillance during Obama visit

eff draws attention to ethiopian internet surveillance during obama visit ethiopia
President Obama has arrived in Ethiopia as part of his African visit, and there have been calls on him to address human rights abuses in the country. This could include the Ethiopian government’s use of surveillance software, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The EFF is currently in the middle of a federal legal challenge, which accuses the country of illegally tracking and eavesdropping on the online browsing and Skype calls of an Ethiopian-born US citizen in 2012 and 2013. He is not suspected of having any involvement in a crime but is connected to a political group that stands in opposition to Ethiopia’s status quo.

Ethiopia is accused of using the spying program FinSpy, developed by Gamma Group, to track the man, identified only as “Kidane,” and living in Maryland in the court papers, first filed last year.

The accusation is a potentially serious one as it involves an international breech of privacy. There is “evidence of a foreign government secretly infiltrating an American’s computer in America,” said Nate Cardozo, EFF’s staff attorney when the lawsuit was first announced.

“It appears that this spyware is part of a systematic effort on the part of the Ethiopian government to spy on individuals who are perceived to be political opponents and members of the Ethiopian diaspora community around the world,” said EFF.

Ethiopia was also one of the customers of embattled surveillance software maker Hacking Team, which developed and sold mass tracking tools to oppressive regimes. The company was hacked recently, resulting in correspondence with governments that purchased its services going public. The Ethiopian government was challenged previously by the Citizen Lab group at the University of Toronto for using software to spy on journalists.

The US has “regularly conveyed to Ethiopia’s leadership our concerns in such areas as press freedom, transparency, space for civil society and the political opposition,” said press secretary Josh Earnest, reports the AP.

One Ethiopian civil rights activist has said that it’s unlikely that President Obama will broach the topic of human right abuses with his Ethiopian counterparts publicly. This also means it’s very unlikely he would touch on any specific cases, such as this one, but the EFF has used the visit as a means to draw attention to its current lawsuit.

Ethiopia has called for the lawsuit to be dismissed, according to the AP.


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