German prosecutors have indicted four executives of FinFisher, a commercial spyware company, for illegally exporting their hacking tool to Turkey. The indictment accuses the executives of evading export controls by selling the FinSpy hacking tool to Turkey’s intelligence agency in 2015 through a Bulgarian front company. FinFisher has faced accusations of selling spyware to authoritarian governments worldwide.
The indictment follows an investigation by civil rights organizations and comes as the European Parliament committee recommends limiting commercial spyware exports unless compliance with dual-use controls is ensured.
The FinSpy spyware developed by FinFisher is known for its ability to record audio, activate cameras, and extract information from smartphones without the owners’ knowledge. The German government designated spyware as a dual-use technology subject to export licensing requirements for customers outside the European Union in 2015.
German civil society organizations had previously filed a complaint against FinFisher, alleging that the Turkish government had used the illegally exported spyware to target opposition leaders and journalists during the 2017 presidential election.
The European Parliament committee’s investigation into the use of commercial spyware by bloc members has raised concerns about illicit exports.
Committee rapporteur Sophie in ‘t Veld accused Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, and possibly other countries of permitting such exports. The committee has recommended the cessation of exports after this year unless governments can guarantee compliance with dual-use controls.
The indictment of FinFisher executives has been welcomed by in ‘t Veld as an important development in addressing the issue of illegal spyware exports.