Amnesty, EFF, Privacy International Put Out Free Anti-Surveillance Tool

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Resistance is digital. Human rights charity Amnesty International is one of several organizations behind the release of a free, open source anti-surveillance tool called Detekt.

Other partners include Privacy International and digital privacy rights organizations the EFF and Germany’s Digitale Gesellschaft. The tool itself was developed by Berlin-based security researcher Claudio Guarnieri.

Detekt has been designed for Windows PC users to scan their machines for “known surveillance spyware” that its makers warn is used to “target and monitor human rights defenders and journalists around the world”.

Given that security is always an arms race, you can be sure the surveillance tools that are detectable with Detekt will evolve to not be — and/or be replaced by alternative spyware that’s not on this tool’s radar.

As indeed Detekt’s own makers caution on the website (resistsurveillance.org) set up to promote the tool.

“Please beware that Detekt is a best effort tool,” they write. “While it may have been effective in previous investigations, it does not provide a conclusive guarantee that your computer is not compromised by the spyware it aims to detect. The tool is provided as is, without warranties or guarantees of any kind.”

So Detekt is not a panacea for surveillance. But that’s exactly the point being made here: technology alone can’t cure surveillance — rather it needs political pressure applied on governments to change their data capture practices.

You could argue it’s irresponsible to release a free tool which, after scanning a PC and giving the user the all clear might also give them a false sense of security about whether or not they are being watched. But Detekt’s makers also caution about that too, and point users to additional EFF resources for combating malware and viruses:

It is important to underline that if Detekt does not find trace of spyware on a computer, it does not necessarily mean that none is present. Some spyware will likely be updated in response to the release of Detekt in order to avoid detection. In addition, there may be existing versions of spyware, from these or other providers, which are not detected by this tool.

To learn more we recommend you visit EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense.

By linking the practice of surveillance to repressive governments, and thereby connecting it with other practices associated with such regimes — such as torture — this initiative seeks to apply political pressure on Western governments whose hands are dirty when it comes to dragnet surveillance of their citizens, as NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has illuminated.

And that’s certainly a point worth making.

Below emphasis mine.

In recent years we have witnessed a huge growth in the adoption and trade in communication surveillance technologies. Such spyware provides the ability to read personal emails, listen-in skype conversations or even remotely turn on a computers camera and microphone without its owner knowing about it.

Some of this software is widely available on the Internet, while some more sophisticated alternatives are made and sold by private companies based in industrialized countries to state law enforcement and intelligence agencies in countries across the world.

There is little to no regulation currently in place to safeguard against these technologies being sold or used by repressive governments or others who are likely to use them for serious human rights violations and abuses.

You can find many reports on the use of spyware against civil society here. You can learn more about the trade in unlawful surveillance equipment by visiting the Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports website.