Nosey Smurf, Gumfish and Foggybottom: The snooping tools that may have got GCHQ in hot water
Alleged activities are 'the modern equivalent of the Government entering your house, rummaging through your filing cabinets, diaries, journals and correspondence, before planting bugs in every room you enter'
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Tuesday 13 May 2014
GCHQ, the Government’s listening station, is being subjected to unprecedented legal action over its alleged use of hacking tools, such as “Nosey Smurf”, “Gumfish” and “Foggybottom”, to intercept personal and private data by infecting computers and mobiles.
The civil rights group Privacy International has today launched the groundbreaking legal challenge at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in London, claiming that GCHQ’s alleged use of such spying techniques is “incompatible with democratic principles and human rights standards”.
Details of the spying capabilities of GCHQ were revealed in documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last year. The Snowden documents showed that GCHQ and the NSA were using malware for the mass interception of communications.
In its claim Privacy International set out the different hacking devices available to GCHQ.
Nosey Smurf is a tool which allows listeners to take over a computer’s microphone and record conversations taking place nearby the device. Gumfish takes over the device’s webcam and can film or take photographs. Foggybottom records Internet browsing histories and collects login details. Tracker Smurf identifies the geographic whereabouts of the user. Grok logs the keystrokes entered into a device.
Privacy International said such “invasive” tools enabled GCHQ to build up a detailed picture of the individual on the end of the phone or computer. Information could include “location, age, gender, marital status, finances, health information, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, family relationships, private communications, and potentially, their most intimate thoughts”.
Launching the legal challenge, Eric King, Deputy Director of Privacy International, said: “The hacking programmes being undertaken by GCHQ are the modern equivalent of the government entering your house, rummaging through your filing cabinets, diaries, journals and correspondence, before planting bugs in every room you enter. Intelligence agencies can do all this without you even knowing about it, and can invade the privacy of anyone around the world with a few clicks. All of this is being done under a cloak of secrecy without any public debate or clear lawful authority.”
Such behaviour was “the purview of dictatorships not democracies”, he said. “Unrestrained, unregulated Government spying of this kind is the antithesis of the rule of law and Government must be held accountable for their actions.”
A GCHQ spokesperson said it had “no comment” on the matter.
Privacy International this week successfully challenged HMRC when a High Court judge ruled that customs officials had acted unlawfully and “irrationally” by issuing blanket refusals to requests for information on the status of any investigation into the potentially illegal export of malware hacking tools from Britain to repressive regimes.
Privacy International had submitted a dossier of evidence to HMRC in 2012, alleging that Gamma International, a company with its roots in Britain, had illegally exported surveillance technology to numerous governments with records of human rights abuse, including Bahrain, Ethiopia, Egypt and Turkmenistan.
Gamma, a British-German company, has refused to comment on its development of FinSpy, a “Trojan” programme which allows a remote user to gain full access to a targeted computer. Privacy International last year called on the National Crime Agency to investigate the case of Tadesse Kersmo, a political refugee who fled to Britain from Ethiopia in 2009 and has continued to take part in opposition politics. FinSpy surveillance software first appeared on the London-based university lecturer’s computer in 2012, according to Privacy International.
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