Since I received a digital spyware programme in my inbox last year, which my colleague Bill Marczak discovered to belong to the FinFisher suite of digital surveillance programs made by Gamma International, we at Bahrain Watch have worked to achieve several things:
- to investigate what this technology can do and where it is being used
- to demonstrate how it can be misused, and
- to challenge both Gamma International and the British government to regulate the export of this technology.
So far, we have helped launch an OECD complaint in Germany, and worked with Privacy International to request a judicial review in the United Kingdom. These actions have garnered much media coverage in both Germany and the UK. Most recently, on Channel 4, and BBC:
During the course of 2012 whilst in Bahrain, I directly observed the proliferation of CCTV and the use of digital surveillance to obtain information about protester activities with absolutely no judicial oversight. It may not be a coincidence that the emphasis on surveillance began just after John Yates, a former British police commissioner, was hired by the Bahraini government to help with ‘security-sector reform.’ Recently, Yates pushed for the use of digital surveillance technology in the UK, arguing that it could have stopped the cold-blooded murder of a British soldier in London. I can’t help but wonder if the real motivation for Yates’ argument is the effectiveness of surveillance technology in identifying pro-democracy activists in Bahrain. Despite the arrest of activists in Bahrain as a direct or indirect result of digital surveillance, protests have not ceased.
Bahrain is different from the UK — we have no democracy and very little freedom in Bahrain to start off with. Britain should think twice about making Bahrain its role model by taking Yates’ advice on digital surveillance.