Report: Ugandan Government uses advanced surveillance technology to spy on citizens and the opposition

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[/blockquote]The Ugandan government has this week be put in the spotlight for using used advanced surveillance technology called FinFisher to target opposition members, journalists, and activists, according to a detailed investigation from the London-based watchdog Privacy International. The huge report, shows how President Yoweri Museveni personally lead a campaign to spy on, and also vanquish opposition movements following the 2011 presidential election. With general elections due next year, government is close to purchasing a new communications monitoring center according to the BBC.

Using a highly invasive form of spyware called FinFisher, made by Gamma Group International based in Germany, the spyware is capable of remotely monitoring computers, smartphones, and other equipment in real-time, and has been sold on the open market to repressive governments.

 The operation was called Fungua Macho (“open your eyes”) which involved buying FinFisher in 2012, and was conducted by 70 intelligence officials, and launched in response to widespread political unrest that erupted over alleged corruption, police brutality, and high living costs following the 2011 election. More than 600 people were arrested or detained, including members of parliament according to the report.

Twenty-one hotels in Kampala, Entebbe and Masaka were also prepared to allow for infection of Operation Fungua Macho’s targets. The management of some of the hotels collaborated with the operation to install fake Wi-Fi portals and install FinFisher on desktop computers in the hotels’ business centres, according to the Ugandan military briefing document. All major conference hotels in Kampala, where high-level events such as heads of state meetings and political party conferences occur and business transactions are negotiated, were included in the target list contained in a Government.

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FinFisher was the “backbone” of the operation, Privacy International reports, which aimed to blackmail opposition members and “crush… civil disobedience.” FinFisher “access points” were installed in Uganda’s parliament and other government institutions, and Museveni’s opponents were targeted in their homes, as well. Gamma trained four Ugandan officials on how to use FinFisher in late 2011, after a second wave of protests erupted.

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, told  the BBC that

[signoff icon=”quote-circled”]”The documents say that the surveillance industry will sell to just about anyone,And it is proof of the fact that we have been trying to raise all along — that these technologies are far too powerful to be in the hands of governments and that governments will go ahead and abuse them.”[/signoff]

This is now casuing worry moving forward, as well. According to Privacy International, Uganda is close to acquiring a centralized communications monitoring center ahead of next year’s presidential election — the fifth since Museveni came to power in 1986. In 2013, the government began soliciting bids to build the system from seven companies: Huawei, ZTE, NICE, Verint, Macro-System, Gamma Group, and Hacking Team. One internal document suggests that Israel-based NICE is the frontrunner to win the bid, though the system is currently not operational.

In a letter to Privacy International, a government spokesperson Colonel Shaban Bantariza denied that the surveillance program exists. He said

[signoff icon=”quote-circled”]”President Museveni does not use criminal blackmail as a political tool to win over or deal with opponents, it does not add any value as (the) government enjoys broad political legitimacy and support.There is “no evidence” that any opponents have been monitored.[/signoff]


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