Rights Groups File OECD Complaint Against Surveillance Firms

A group of human rights organizations has filed complaints with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development against two European surveillance-technology companies, seeking investigations into whether the firms are complicit in the abuse of dissidents in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

The complaints filed Feb. 1 seek probes of whether U.K.- based Gamma Group and Munich-based Trovicor GmbH violated guidelines for business conduct set out by the Paris-based OECD, according to Privacy International, one of five groups behind the effort.

Gamma’s FinSpy intrusion tool can secretly take over computers and phones, while Trovicor sells and maintains computer systems that process intercepted phone and computer communications for government agencies. Bloomberg News was the first to report the use of the companies’ products against Bahraini pro-democracy activists, in 2012 and 2011, and the complaints cite those reports.

The rights groups plan to use any OECD probes and recommendations to press the companies to drop any business with Bahrain, disclose contracts with governments around the globe and remotely disable products suspected in human rights violations, according to a Privacy International briefing paper on the filings.

Persuading Companies

“We very much hope the OECD process will persuade Gamma and Trovicor to take a long hard look at their current and future clients, and to think carefully about the role their products play in the targeting and torture of activists and the suppression of pro-democracy voices,” Eric King, the head of research at London-based Privacy International, said in a statement.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Bahrain Watch and Reporters Without Borders also joined in filing the OECD complaints in the U.K. and Germany, according to a Privacy International news release.

Martin J. Muench, managing director of Gamma’s Munich-based unit, Gamma International GmbH, said in an e-mail that, “until such time as the OECD has conducted its investigations and reached its conclusions it would be inappropriate for me to comment.” He said Gamma will continue to cooperate with export control authorities and regulators of the U.K., Germany and U.S.

Government Use

Gamma markets FinSpy for law enforcement and government use through Andover, England-based Gamma International UK Ltd.

Trovicor’s head of marketing communications, Birgitt Fischer-Harrow, said in an e-mail that Trovicor observes all international laws and doesn’t do business in countries that are subject to embargoes.

“Trovicor’s product and systems aim to protect and keep nations, citizens and public infrastructure safe,” she said. “Trovicor doesn’t supply any country which is in civil war or in conditions similar to civil war or for which such conditions are predictable. The same applies to services for existing installations.”

The company’s contracts bar it from commenting on individual clients and it can’t publish the names of countries with which it doesn’t do business, she said.

The U.K.’s national contact point for such OECD complaints, which is within the U.K.’s Department for Business, doesn’t publicly confirm the receipt of complaints, a department spokesperson said. The office publishes assessments of complaints on its website when they are completed.

The German national contact point for such complaints, which is within the German Ministry of Economics and Technology, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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