Surveillance company FinFisher is taking legal action against our critical reporting

Support us against the surveillance industry

Our reporting on the criminal complaint against the producers of the state trojan-horse spyware software FinFisher has resulted in mail from the law firm Schertz-Bergmann. We were urged to sign a cease-and-desist declaration. We did not do that.

Nevertheless, we are still threatened with a temporary injunction for the article. We have taken the article offline for the time being. Our lawyers at JBB have responded to the warning.

The action concerns a criminal complaint that we filed together with Reporters Without Borders, the German NGO Society for Civil Rights (Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) on suspicion of the export of surveillance software to Turkey. The software was found on devices of members of the Turkish opposition party: as a trojan in the guise of an Android app for networking the protest movement against the authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A technical analysis indicates that it is code from FinFisher/FinSpy. How this software got to Turkey must be clarified. A direct export to Turkey would not be allowed according to the current export rules in Germany.

Turkey is not an isolated case

Over the past years the spy software has been found in use by authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and beyond.

The letter from Schertz-Bergmann accused us of reporting based on speculation because we published the criminal complaint as an appendix to the article:

The reporting is also not objective, but highly prejudicial. This follows in particular from the fact that you have embedded the criminal complaint in your article. In this way, all allegations are unilaterally disseminated via the press and made known to the reader unfiltered. This means that the reporting is of course also prejudicial. Exculpatory circumstances are not communicated. A mandatory statement from our client was not even requested! Accordingly, it goes without saying that such a statement was not included in the article.

We report regularly on the lucrative business with spy software

We report regularly on the lucrative business with spy software, including FinFisher since 2012. The software is being developed in Germany.

We filed the criminal complaint together with three other organizations. The complaint itself has been posted on the net by other organizations as well. Yet only we are attacked with a cease and desist letter and threatened with further legal action.

In further points the lawyers for FinFisher accuse us of false representation of the facts. This accusation is unfounded. We have full confidence the work of the investigating authorities will prove our account is substantiated by the facts.

We must state for the record: The legal action against us is no coincidence. Like no other journalistic medium in Germany have we reported constantly, extensively, critically and for such a duration about FinFisher, its State Trojans and the background – including the international dimension. A total of 84 articles with mention of Finfisher can be found in our archive. If we are kept from reporting, one of the loudest voices on the topic will be silenced. This would not only affect us and our readers, but also the potential victims of such software: Without the curiosity of and pressure from journalists, no one would shine a light into the basements of this clandestine industry.

We won’t be intimidated by the surveillance industry

What is clear is that we will not be intimidated by the surveillance industry and will continue to try to disclose the machinations of these and other surveillance service providers. We and our lawyers will also defend ourselves in court if necessary, because a temporary injunction would be tantamount to a muzzle.

The other side has expensive lawyers on its side, paid for from the profits of a business practice which we have been criticizing for years and which has demonstrably led to espionage in Turkey against the largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party. The Turkish case is only the tip of the iceberg: Western Trojan suppliers are far too often digital enablers of dictators around the world and they are rarely held accountable for the products they promote with glossy brochures. They must be stopped not only for ethical reasons. They must also be investigated in cases where they violate the already embarrassingly few existing prohibitions for exporting tools for digital surveillance.

We need your support

A court case costs a lot of time and energy, which we would rather invest in our reporting on the surveillance industry. To sustain us through this fight in the interest of human rights we need your support – in the form of word-of-mouth and donations.

Thank you.

Hilf mit! Mit Deiner finanziellen Hilfe unterstützt Du unabhängigen Journalismus.

Quelle: Netzpolitik