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France charges 4 cybersurveillance companies execs with 'complicity in torture'

A 'Cyber Security' sign is displayed in the window of a computer store on December 18, 2020 [OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images]
A 'Cyber Security' sign is displayed in the window of a computer store on December 18, 2020 [OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images]

Prosecutors have charged four executives at two French cyber-surveillance companies with "complicity in torture" after they sold technology to the Libyan and Egyptian regimes.

The executives are accused of selling Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Egyptian authorities internet surveillance gear that was used to track down and spy on opposition figures who were detained and tortured.

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) has said that former chief of Amesys Philippe Vannier was charged in Paris last week with complicity in acts of torture.

The FIDH opened a lawsuit against the executives after the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that Amesys provided Deep Packet Inspection technology to Gaddafi's government allowing it to intercept internet messages.

Six people who said they were victims of the spy technology joined as plaintiffs and have been questioned by French judges.

Oliver Bohbot, head of Nexa Technologies, and two other executives were charged with complicity in acts of torture and forced disappearances.

Nexa is accused of selling an updated version of Amesys' software, Cerebro, which can trace messages and calls in real-time, to Egyptian coup leader turned President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's government.

READ: Egypt court sentences man to death on terror charges

The investigations were aided by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and are based on an investigation by the magazine Telerama which revealed the sale in March 2014 of a system worth €10 million ($11.9 million) which authorities said was to fight the Muslim Brotherhood.

"This is a considerable step that demonstrates that what we see every day on the ground – the links between the activities of these surveillance companies and violations of human rights – can be considered criminal and lead to complicity charges," lawyers for FIDH said in a statement.

Lawyer and FIDH honourary president Michel Tubiana said that he hopes the French authorities undertake "resolutely to take all measures to prevent the export of and dual-use and surveillance technologies to countries which seriously violate human rights."

According to FIDH, the judges are investigating the selling of similar technology to Saudi Arabia. At the end of December, another French company, Qosmos, was accused of complicity in crimes against torture after selling cyber-surveillance equipment to the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

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