Surveillance software firm FinFisher declares insolvency

Munich-based spyware company FinFisher declared insolvency last month, Bloomberg and Netzpolitik Monday, amid an ongoing investigation into its business dealings. 

The controversial firm was accused of selling surveillance spyware to repressive regimes to target dissidents, activists, and journalists. “FinSpy,” the company’s most profitable spyware, has been monitored by the German government and human rights organizations for years. German officials launched an investigation into FinFisher in 2019 after a number of NGOs filed a criminal complaint claiming that FinSpy was sold to the Turkish government — without having the legal documentation to do so — and used in a 2017 Turkish operation that preyed on anti-government protestors. 

The complaint filed by Reporters Without Borders, Netzpolitik, the Society for Civil Rights, and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights accused FinFisher of failing to abide by European export regulations including the requirement to obtain a permit granting trade to non-EU countries by the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA). 

The spyware is highly invasive, essentially offering its users an all-access pass to a chosen target’s device including chat and phone call conversations, and to a device’s camera and microphone. FinSpy was created in 2016 and has been linked to customers including the governments of Egypt, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. 

“There are urgent indications that the Munich-based company conglomerate sold the spy software FinSpy to the Turkish government without the approval of the federal government and thus contributed to the surveillance of opposition figures and journalists in Turkey,” according to the NGO’s investigation

In October 2020 German authorities raided FinFisher's corporate offices, two associated businesses, and the residencies of directors and executives — leading to the recent announcement that FinFisher accounts were seized and operations halted.

Although the investigation is ongoing, FinFisher’s insolvency prevented the prosecutor's office from seizing the alleged illegally obtained assets belonging to the spyware company because it doesn’t technically exist, a spokesperson for the Munich public prosecutor’s office told Bloomberg

A representative for FinFisher did not respond to a request for comment.

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Emma Vail

Emma Vail Emma Vail is an editorial intern for The Record. She is currently studying anthropology and women, gender, and sexuality at Northeastern University. After creating her own blog in 2018, she decided to pursue journalism and further her experience by joining the team.