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[liberationtech] New EFF Lawsuit: American Sues Ethiopian Government for Spyware Infection

Nate Cardozo nate at
Tue Feb 18 10:16:14 PST 2014

Hi LibTech,

Today, we sued the Ethiopian Government for its use of the malware
described in last year's Citizen Lab report. Thanks to Citizen Lab for
their amazing work. Details below.


Nate Cardozo
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
815 Eddy Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
nate at | 415.436.9333 x146
Help EFF defend our rights in the digital world

February 18, 2014

    American Sues Ethiopian Government for Spyware Infection

Months of Electronic Espionage Put American Citizen and Family at Risk

Washington, D.C. - An American citizen living in Maryland sued the
Ethiopian government today for infecting his computer with secret
spyware, wiretapping his private Skype calls, and monitoring his entire
family's every use of the computer for a period of months. The
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing the plaintiff in
this case, who has asked the court to allow him to use the pseudonym Mr.
Kidane -- which he uses within the Ethiopian community -- in order to
protect the safety and wellbeing of his family both in the United States
and in Ethiopia.

"We have clear evidence of a foreign government secretly infiltrating an
American's computer in America, listening to his calls, and obtaining
access to a wide swath of his private life," said EFF Staff Attorney
Nate Cardozo. "The current Ethiopian government has a well-documented
history of human rights violations against anyone it sees as political
opponents. Here, it wiretapped a United States citizen on United States
soil in an apparent attempt to obtain information about members of the
Ethiopian diaspora who have been critical of their former government.
U.S. laws protect Americans from this type of unauthorized electronic
spying, regardless of who is responsible."

A forensic examination of Mr. Kidane's computer showed that the device
had been infected when he opened a Microsoft Word document that
contained hidden malware. The document had been an attachment to an
email message sent by agents of the Ethiopian government and forwarded
to Mr. Kidane. The spyware contained in the attachment was a program
called FinSpy, a suite of surveillance software marketed exclusively to
governments by the Gamma Group of Companies. In the several months
FinSpy was on Mr. Kidane's computer, it recorded a vast array of
activities conducted by users of the machine. Traces of the spyware
inadvertently left on his computer show that information -- including
recordings of dozens of Skype phone calls -- was surreptitiously sent to
a secret control server located in Ethiopia and controlled by the
Ethiopian government.

The infection appears to be part of a systematic program by the
Ethiopian government to spy on perceived political opponents in the
Ethiopian diaspora around the world. Reports from human rights agencies
and news outlets have detailed Ethiopia's campaign of international
espionage, aimed at jailing opposition and undermining dissent. But
Ethiopia is not alone. CitizenLab -- a group of researchers based at the
University of Toronto, Canada -- has found evidence that governments
around the world use FinSpy and other technologies to spy on human
rights and democracy advocates across the globe.

"The problem of governments violating the privacy of their political
opponents through digital surveillance is not isolated -- it's already
big and growing bigger," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Yet
despite the international intrigue and genuine danger involved in this
lawsuit, at bottom it's a straightforward case. An American citizen was
wiretapped at his home in Maryland, and he's asking for his day in court
under longstanding American laws."

In the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.,
today, Mr. Kidane asks for a jury trial as well as damages for
violations of the U.S. Wiretap Act and state privacy law. The Ethiopian
Embassy in Washington received a courtesy copy of the lawsuit, and the
District Court will formally serve the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry in
Addis Ababa with copies of the papers in both English and Amharic.

Richard M. Martinez, Mahesha P. Subbaraman, and Samuel L. Walling of
Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P. are assisting EFF as co-counsel
on this case.

For the full complaint in Kidane v. Ethiopia:

For more on this case:


Nate Cardozo
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   nate at

Cindy Cohn
   Legal Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   cindy at

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