Elgin mentions a U.K. company called Gamma Group which has created a piece of software called FinFisher, which can get on computers through fake iTunes updates.
“So somebody thinks they’re downloading a piece of software off the Internet but instead they’re downloading this piece of spyware and now the government has full access to everything they type [and] everything they say,” he says. “[And] not only is this piece of code on a computer logging every keystroke and everything being said, but they also boast about their ability to activate the webcam or activate the computer’s microphone without the target knowing about it.”
FinFisher, which is distributed by a German partner, was tested in Egypt.
“This type of technology is showing up in a lot of places,” Elgin says. “In the case of Iran, laws are being implemented — one in 2010 would bar [U.S.] technology that is primarily used for these repressive purposes. So these laws are there, but there isn’t much oversight, there isn’t much going on. … There have been no companies identified for selling this stuff, and the U.S. [Government] Accountability Office was charged with trying to research who is supplying this stuff to Iran and basically said, ‘We can’t identify anybody and there’s no way for us to identify this.’ “
Elgin says human-rights groups and online activists have increased pressure on Western governments to try to stop surveillance companies from developing relationships with oppressive regimes.
“The E.U. just adopted some new legislation earlier this month which basically prohibits the sale or export of surveillance or monitoring technology into Syria,” he says. “So we’re seeing the rules evolve and get a little bit stronger, inch by inch.”