Report: Turkish gov’t used German spy software on opposition politicians, activists

“Opposition protesters in Turkey were reportedly deceived into downloading a spy app made by a German firm [despite the fact that] Germany has previously vowed to block exports of spy software to authoritarian countries,” Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) wrote on Tuesday.

According to DW, the Turkish government used a German-made spy program to infiltrate the smartphones of Turkish opposition members, according to a report seen by German media. Germany has strict rules for exporting spy software and has in the past vowed to block exports to authoritarian countries.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and public broadcasters NDR and WDR reported the news based on a study by the digital rights group Access Now. Access Now found evidence that Turkish officials had used the program “Finspy” by Finfisher, headquartered in Munich, to spy on members of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

According to report the software was primarily used during a three-week protest titled “March for Justice” against Turkish President Recep Erdoğan organized by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in July 2017. Fake Twitter accounts posted links to websites that promised to inform protesters about the demonstration if they downloaded a smartphone app. The app included Finspy software and allowed the Turkish government to gain real-time access to the smartphone owners’ contacts, photos and videos.

A security expert at Germany’s University of Bochum independently analyzed the software and told Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR that “it appeared to be a newer version” of previous Finspy software.

Responding to a question from the three media outlets, the German Economy Ministry said it had not approved any export licenses for spy software since October 2014. It did not respond to a follow-up question about whether the ministry had approved any export licenses for FinFisher specifically.

FinFisher refused to comment on the story when contacted by Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR.

The Germany director for Human Rights Watch, Wenzel Michalski, tweeted: “This [news] would mean there are holes in [our] export regulations. This must be investigated immediately.”

Green lawmaker Konstantin von Notz wrote on Twitter that “Turkish spy attacks on the opposition with technology that was created with German tax money and should never have been exported?! The #GroKo [German coalition government] must urgently clarify [the situation] and prevent something like this from happening in the future.”

According to DW’s report, the same three media outlets reported in 2014 that then-Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel wanted to stop exports of spy software to authoritarian governments. Gabriel was quoted as saying: “We want to stop the export of these types of technologies to countries that suppress civil rights movements and that do not accept basic human rights.”

Finfisher is a company that works exclusively with governments to provide police and intelligence software. On its website, it says its mission is “to provide first-class cyber solutions and knowledge for successful operations against organized crime.”

Meanwhile, Turkey’s CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu has called on German and Turkish authorities to reveal the details of a German-made software allegedly used to spy on the attendees of last year’s “March for Justice.”

“They listened to all of our phones conversations. I want the government to reveal those who did this. Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, you have to reveal those who wiretapped us, if you are not a part of this,” Kılıçdaroğlu said at his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday.

“This program cannot be sold without the authorization of the German government. German media is asking who in Turkey they sold it to. We have to know this,” Kılıçdaroğlu said and added that “We want to know who the German government sold this program to in Turkey. We will take action against the German government if necessary.”

Kılıçdaroğlu urged Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım to take action regarding the allegations and demanded Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) to reveal the details about the software.

Kılıçdaroğlu led thousands on his three-week “March for Justice” to İstanbul from the capital Ankara last year to protest the imprisonment of CHP deputy Elis Berberoğlu.

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