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    Recent Stories About Monitoring of Employees, Spyware Targeting Dissidents and Web Surveillance in Australia

    Here are some recent stories about surveillance technologies. The Washington Post discusses the issue of computer monitoring of federal employees and their privacy rights. In June, the Obama administration warned federal agencies “that monitoring their employees’ personal e-mail communications could violate the law if the intent is to retaliate against whistleblowers.” The warning came after employees at the Food and Drug Administration filed suit against the agency over the privacy of their personal e-mail: “The surveillance — detailed in e-mails and memos unearthed by six of the scientists and doctors […] took place over two years as the plaintiffs accessed their personal Gmail accounts from government computers. Information garnered this way eventually contributed to the harassment or dismissal of all six of the FDA employees, the suit alleges.” The New York Times reports that a British company’s surveillance software program is being used as spyware to target political dissidents, and it’s been found on servers in more than a dozen countries. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a controversial plan to store the Web browsing history of all Australians has been put on hold.

    Stepped-up computer monitoring of federal workers worries privacy advocates,” Washington Post

    When the Food and Drug Administration started spying on a group of agency scientists, it installed monitoring software on their laptop computers to capture their communications.

    The software, sold by SpectorSoft of Vero Beach, Fla., could do more than vacuum up the scientists’ e-mails as they complained to lawmakers and others about medical devices they thought were dangerous. It could be programmed to intercept a tweet or Facebook post. It could snap screen shots of their computers. It could even track an employee’s keystrokes, retrieve files from hard drives or search for keywords. […]

    Agencies outside the field of intelligence spent $5.6 billion in fiscal 2011 to safeguard their classified information with hardware, software, personnel and other methods, up from $4.7 billion in fiscal 2010, according to the Information Security Oversight Office. Although only a portion of the money — the amount is not specified — was spent on monitoring for insider threats, industry experts say virtually every arm of the government conducts some form of sophisticated electronic monitoring. […]

    The stepped-up monitoring is raising red flags for privacy advocates, who have cited the potential for abuse. Among other concerns, they say they are alarmed that the government has monitored federal workers — including the FDA scientists, starting in 2010 — when they use Gmail, Yahoo or other personal e-mail accounts on government computers. […]

    At least two other agencies, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Maritime Commission, are under congressional scrutiny for seeking and using employee monitoring software that critics say is intrusive.

    Software Meant to Fight Crime Is Used to Spy on Dissidents,” New York Times

    SAN FRANCISCO — Morgan Marquis-Boire works as a Google engineer and Bill Marczak is earning a Ph.D. in computer science. But this summer, the two men have been moonlighting as detectives, chasing an elusive surveillance tool from Bahrain across five continents.

    What they found was the widespread use of sophisticated, off-the-shelf computer espionage software by governments with questionable records on human rights. While the software is supposedly sold for use only in criminal investigations, the two came across evidence that it was being used to target political dissidents.

    The software proved to be the stuff of a spy film: it can grab images of computer screens, record Skype chats, turn on cameras and microphones and log keystrokes. The two men said they discovered mobile versions of the spyware customized for all major mobile phones. […]

    The software has been identified as FinSpy, one of the more elusive spyware tools sold in the growing market of off-the-shelf computer surveillance technologies that give governments a sophisticated plug-in monitoring operation. Research now links it to servers in more than a dozen countries, including Turkmenistan, Brunei and Bahrain, although no government acknowledges using the software for surveillance purposes. […]

    FinSpy is made by the Gamma Group, a British company that says it sells monitoring software to governments solely for criminal investigations. […]

    Since publishing their findings, Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak have started receiving malware samples from other security researchers and from activist groups that suspected they may have been targets. In several cases, the two found that the samples reported back to Web sites run by the Gamma Group. But other samples appeared to be actively snooping for foreign governments.

    Roxon puts web surveillance plans on ice,” Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

    A CONTROVERSIAL internet security plan to store the web history of all Australians for up to two years has been stalled by the federal government until after the next election.

    Security bureaucrats have drafted legislation to expand internet surveillance and security powers, but Attorney-General Nicola Roxon decided to first refer a discussion paper to a parliamentary committee.

    Senior intelligence officials, who have been pushing for the increased powers, complain the legislation will be delayed until after the election due next year.

    The national security discussion paper released last month by Ms Roxon canvasses proposals for compulsory internet data retention, forcing people to give up computer passwords, streamlining telecommunications interception approvals, and enhancing stop and search powers for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. […]

    In a recent interview, Ms Roxon said she was “not yet convinced” about the merits of the proposal for compulsory data retention that would enable intelligence and security agencies to examine a person’s internet usage.

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