Documents obtained by hackers from the Italian spyware manufacturer Hacking Team confirm that the company sells its powerful surveillance technology to countries with dubious human rights records.
Internal emails and financial records show that in the past five years, Hacking Team’s Remote Control System software — which can infect a target’s computer or phone from afar and steal files, read emails, take photos and record conversations — has been sold to government agencies in Ethiopia, Bahrain, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Azerbaijan and Turkey. An in-depth analysis of those documents by The Intercept shows Hacking Team’s leadership was, at turns, dismissive of concerns over human rights and privacy; exasperated at the bumbling and technical deficiency of some of its more controversial clients; and explicitly concerned about losing revenue if cut off from such clients.
Hacking Team has an unusually public profile for a purveyor of surreptitious technology, and it has drawn criticism because its malware has shown up on the computers of activists and journalists. Most of the countries identified in the leaked files have previously been connected to Hacking Team by human rights researchers working with computer forensics experts. The company has long denied any implication in human rights abuses, regularly pointing reporters to a policy on its website that says it only sells to governments, investigates allegations of human rights abuses and complies with international blacklists.
But the company has never confirmed its client list, nor has it given an example of an instance in which it cut off a customer because of human rights concerns.