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Watchdog says spyware violates human rights guidelines

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If you think that commercial software designed to spy on computers is problematic, you're not alone. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's UK contact has determined that Gamma International's approach to selling its FinFisher spyware violates human rights guidelines. The developer not only doesn't have a human rights policy, but doesn't investigate clients for the possibility of abuse -- there's little stopping it from selling FinFisher to an oppressive government. The contact couldn't confirm that Gamma sold its software to Bahrain, which used the surveillance tool to target the political activists who prompted the investigation (shown here). However, the OECD isn't shy about pressing for change. It wants Gamma to take evidence of abuse and government advice into account whenever it sells software, and to cooperate when there are signs that someone is using FinFisher for nefarious purposes.

Whether or not anything comes out of the findings is another matter. The OECD can't force Gamma to mend its ways, and the company repeatedly "raised obstacles" that stalled investigators. If nothing else follows from this, Gamma could easily dig in its heels and refuse to improve its ethical standards. However, the hope is that this public pressure will either lead to legal action or convince spyware outfits like Gamma that their reputations are at stake if they don't shape up.

[Image credit: AP Photo/Matt Dunham]

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