German feds will have own spyware by 2014, FinFisher for now

The German Federal Police (BPOL) have bought spyware from Gamma Group, the controversial company behind the FinFisher surveillance toolkit thought to be widely used by repressive governments around the world.

A reference to BPOL’s purchase from Gamma Group and its German partner Elaman are contained in a Ministry of the Interior document discussing progress on Germany’s internal development of custom surveillance software for law enforcement.

The purchase appears to be a stop-gap solution for law enforcement as agencies continue developing bespoke surveillance software that complies with German legal requirements, according to the document published by on Wednesday.

Similar tools may be options for Australian agencies in the near future if the Attorney General’s Department successfully pushes through a proposal to authorise the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation to hack a target’s computer, reported last week.

Development of the German software is occurring at the Center of Competence for Information Technology Surveillance alongside Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), which believes it can complete the spyware build by the end of 2014, according to the document.

The BKA was on the hunt for developers last September to further that program.

The document does not mention the product BPOL purchased from Gamma’s portfolio, but notes that the German arm of US IT outsourcing firm CSC vetted its source code for compliance with German law.

The plan to build its own software came after European hacker organisation Chaos Computer Club in 2011 exposed malware used by German law enforcement to spy on suspects. Thought to be made by a company called DigiTask, the malware violated a 2008 court ruling that required strict controls over the design and function of such malware

Separately, the UK-based headquarters of Gamma Group, Gamma International, has come under increased scrutiny by civil rights campaigners who allege its FinSpy surveillance products have been illegally exported to at least a dozen repressive regimes, in particular in the Middle East and across Asia.

Last August, following a campaign by rights group Privacy International, the UK Government notified Gamma that it needed a license to export FinSpy to all destinations outside the EU. The license was required because it was designed to use “controlled cryptography”.

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