German firms probed for illegally selling spyware to Turkey

The Munich Prosecutor’s Office has revealed that three German companies are the subject of an investigation over illegally supplying software  which was allegedly used for spying on the opposition protesters in Turkey.

Directors and employees of FinFisher, a Bavarian software company and unnamed two other companies have been investigated in a  probe initiated first in May.

This was upon related media reports and a complaint filed by anti-surveillance NGOs, including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Netzpolitik.org, the Society for Civil Rights (GFF) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

FinFisher’s software, Finspy, was believed to have been deployed on phones of anti-government activists who participated in a protest in 2017 against mass arrests by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, according to daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and German public broadcasters NDR, WDR, and BR.

The malware allegedly provided users with unimpeded access to opponents’ phones, reaching contacts, chat messages, phone conversations, photos and videos including those on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype.

There has been reportedly no immediate word from the company, as well as the governments of Germany or Turkey on the allegations.

In Germany, software and devices that can be used to spy on people as dual-use products are subjected to approval for export by the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA), part of the Economics Ministry, before they can be sold in a non-EU country in a bid to avoid misuse.

The export of the spyware to Turkey is believed to have happened without an official permit as the software was developed in 2016. A spokesman from the Economics Ministry said the government had not issued any export license for spying software since 2015.

The implicated NGOs claimed that Turkey’s AKP government had planted the spyware on a fake version of the Turkish oppositional website called Adalet, whose original version was intended to help the activists coordinate during the 2017 protest marches against the Erdogan regime.

The fake version offered the anti-AKP protesters a networking application that infected their devices with the malware, once installed.

“It is outrageous and unacceptable to see German spyware being used against journalists and opposition voices in Turkey,” said Christian Mihr, executive director of the RSF Germany.

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