On Thursday April 13, the Electronic Frontier Foundation asked an appeals court to review a decision that will allow foreign governments to monitor the activities of Americans in America. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is calling on the court to reverse the decision made in a case involving an American living in Maryland and the Ethiopian government. The case, Kidane v. Ethiopia, relates to the Ethiopian government attaching a malware program known as FinSpy to Mr. Kidane’s computer. FinSpy is capable of copying every keystroke made by the user, as well as Skype calls, and sending all of the data back to Ethiopia.
In March, a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against Mr. Kidane and stated that foreign governments could not be held accountable for surveillance in American courts if they did not send a human agent to perform the spying. “In essence, this would mean governments around the world have immunity for spying, attacking, and even murdering Americans on American soil, as long as the activity is performed with software, robots, drones, or other digital tools,” the EFF writes.
“We already know about technology that will let attackers drive your car off the road, turn off your pacemaker, or watch every communication from your computer or your phone. As our lives become even more digital, the risks will only grow,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. More than likely, her comments regarding driving cars off road is a reference to recent revelations from WikiLeaks’ Vault7, CIA leaks which show that, among other things, the agency can remotely control vehicles. Cardozo said the courts need to make it clear to governments around the world that “any illegal attack in the United States will be answered in court in the United States.”
The result of the court’s decision is that foreign governments are not expected to follow the same requirements for surveillance that the U.S. government is expected to. Of course, the reality is that the U.S. does not even follow its own rules on domestic surveillance or foreign surveillance.
“American citizens deserve to feel safe and secure in their own homes using their own computers,” EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn said. “The appeals court should vacate this decision, and ensure that the use of robots or remote controlled tools doesn’t prevent people who have been harmed by foreign government attacks from seeking justice.”
Whether or not this particular court reverses this particular decision, it should serve as a reminder of the ever growing, interconnecting nexus of surveillance programs, tools, and compliant courts. The only freedom and privacy left in America is what you are willing to stand up and fight for. We must organize on the local level to oppose and counter the State’s surveillance. (For more from the author of “Lawsuit Attempts to Hold Foreign Governments Accountable for Spying on Americans” please click HERE)