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The government of Uganda used FinFisher Spyware to target politicians, journalists, and activists

The Ugandan government purchased FinFisher in 2012, documents show, after Museveni launched Operation Fungua Macho ("open your eyes"). The initiative involved 70 intelligence officials, and was launched in response to widespread political unrest that erupted over alleged corruption, police brutality, and high living costs following the 2011 election. More than 600 people were arrested or detained, including members of parliament.

The government of Uganda used sophisticated surveillance technology to target opposition members, journalists, and activists, according to an investigation from the London-based watchdog Privacy International. The report, based on secret government documents, shows how Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni personally spearheaded a campaign to spy on, and ultimately vanquish opposition movements following the 2011 presidential election. The investigation was conducted in coordination with the BBC, and also claims that the Ugandan government is close to purchasing a new communications monitoring center ahead of next year's presidential election.

The government's weapon of choice was a highly invasive form of spyware called FinFisher, produced by Gamma Group International, a UK-based company with affiliates in various other countries.


FinFisher also known as FinSpy is capable of remotely monitoring computers, smartphones, and other equipment in real-time, and has been sold on the open market to repressive governments.

FinFisher was the "backbone" of the operation, Privacy International reports, which aimed to blackmail opposition members and "crush... civil disobedience." FinFisher "access points" were installed in Uganda's parliament and other government institutions, and Museveni's opponents were targeted in their homes, as well. Gamma trained four Ugandan officials on how to use FinFisher in late 2011, after a second wave of protests erupted.

According to Privacy International, Uganda is close to acquiring a centralized communications monitoring center ahead of next year's presidential election — the fifth since Museveni came to power in 1986. In 2013, the government began soliciting bids to build the system from seven companies: Huawei, ZTE, NICE, Verint, Macro-System, Gamma Group, and Hacking Team. One internal document suggests that Israel-based NICE is the frontrunner to win the bid, though the system is currently not operational.

In a letter to Privacy International, a government spokesperson denied that the surveillance program exists. "President Museveni does not use criminal blackmail as a political tool to win over or deal with opponents," the spokesperson said, "it does not add any value as (the) government enjoys broad political legitimacy and support." Government spokesman Colonel Shaban Bantariza tells the BBC that there is "no evidence" that any opponents have been monitored.

In a statement to the BBC, Gamma said its products are designed to combat "terrorist threats, drug cartels, other major organized crime, and pedophile rings." "Gamma undertakes an absolute obligation of confidentiality to the governments which purchase its products and systems," the company said. "Gamma does not assist or encourage any government agency in the misuse of Gamma's products and systems."

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