Sleeping with the FinFishers

A representative of the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs inadvertently acknowledged the purchase of FinFisher spyware.

During an event hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week a representative of the ministry acknowledged the purchase of FinFisher software while commenting on a question of mine.

One of the participants of the panel brought up the use of spyware like FinFisher and Hackingteam on journalists and dissidents of an African country. The speaker explained that it is European companies who sold the software to questionable regimes with even more questionable human rights record to date.

Since the Dutch ministry organized this event and since there was time for questions from the audience I asked the following:

“You mentioned the usage of FinFisher and Hackingteam by this regime. I want to mention that these are European companies aiding regimes in human rights abuses. In addition, it’s important to note that the Dutch government spent 2.7 million Euros on acquiring a Finfisher license since 2012. So my question to the panel, how can the Dutch government help you?”

The panel, composed of bloggers and activists from this country, responded that they have become more aware about threats that they’re facing from regimes like this, especially after the Snowden revelations.

The moderator then asked one of the three representatives from the Ministry for a comment about this spyware, who answered:

“We are aware of reports about FinFisher and the Dutch government and we acknowledge these reports.”

The person seemed relatively well informed. In only 10 minutes she furthermore mentioned the Wassenaar arrangement and the new EU rules that will provide more transparency of the sales of spyware like FinFisher.

What stroke me about her answer is that earlier this year, when asked for a statement, the Ministry of Justice and Security acknowledged the purchase of spyware, but their minister did not go into specifics and did not want to name any companies.
It surprised me that a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs now semi-publicly acknowledged the purchase, which provides us with a second source in addition to the hacked and leaked material of FinFisher’s support website.

The evening ended with a remark by the moderator that nobody was going to be surveilled by the Dutch government simply for their political opinions. Because that my friends, we don’t do in a democracy..