Why the #HackingTeam hack should be a wake-up call for the #globaldev community

You may have seen the #HackingTeam hack story emerging in your networks and thought it to be some strange, fringe tech-hack whatever issue…think again!

As first insights from the hacked data are shared and discussed it becomes clear that this is going to be a one of 2015’s biggest stories for the ICT4D, open data and development community.

Italy’s Hacking Team, which makes surveillance software used by governments to police the web, appeared to be the victim of hacking on a grand scale itself on Monday.
The Milan-based company, which describes itself as a maker of lawful interception software used by police and intelligence services worldwide, has been accused by anti-surveillance campaigners of selling snooping tools to governments with poor human rights records.
Those listed included police agencies in several European countries, the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the United States, as well as police and state security organizations in countries with records of human rights abuses including Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
That’s from a very factual Canadian Globe & Mail piece.

VICE’s Joshua Kopstein adds that the Hacking Team leaks confirm what researchers and NGOs had been suspecting for a while:

The list of names matches the findings of Citizen Lab, a research lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs that previously found traces of Hacking Team on the computers of journalists and activists around the world.
Reporters Without Borders later named the company one of the “Enemies of the Internet” in its annual report on government surveillance and censorship.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The story will hopefully trigger some serious discussions around ‘ICT4Bad’ and how naïve many governments, donors, ‘evangelists’ and also researchers have been in the ICT4D community. While the facebook and Twitter revolutions have been addressed time and again there are some dark and twisted companies and technologies at work to undermine civil society-supplying oppressive regimes with the weaponry for technological warfare against their citizens and whatever opposition dares to speak out. Even though the support for the trade-embargoed, war-crimes-stricken Sudan maybe an exception, it shows how willingly and easily companies like the Hacking Team can undermine long-term development, capacity-building or good governance efforts.

I am no apt to quote politicians on this blog, but Liberal Democratic member of the European Parliament, Dutch Marietje Schaake raises some very important points in her statement:

The best result we can seek of this hack, is that we finally take action to ensure we can practice what we preach in Europe. While on the one hand many European politicians want to ensure and achieve ‘cybersecurity’, and condemn human rights violations in third countries, the products at the source of these violations could have been sold without any problem. More transparency and accountability are needed around the sales of privacy-intrusive surveillance tools. Internal due diligence policies and self-regulation efforts are clearly not enough to prevent the marketing and sale of these systems from the EU to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Furthermore, without such transparency, any EU or UN sanctions-regime is bound to fail. The EU must ensure it is credible in its foreign policies and hold to account the violators within its own borders.
Most development organizations need to become much more serious, politically-aware and tech-savvy rather than simply repeating some catchy lines about social enterprises, innovation, the power the Internet’ for economic development or transparency and accountability through some open data website.

I just finished a critical post on the German development ministry’s ‘Strategic Partnership for a "Digital Africa"’ that I will publish later this week and that highlights some of those naïve assumptions around digital technology.


  1. In my mind I am imagining German surveillance companies exploring the jungle of charted territories in the heart of darkness in the footsteps of Livingston... @OpenAidGermany


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