Detekt tool is designed to help users scan their computers for government surveillance programmes
Detekt is designed to help users scan their computers for government surveillance programmes Reuters

Human rights group Amnesty International has helped launch a new tool that helps journalists and activists detect government snooping.

The Detekt programme is designed to help expose spyware and allows users to scan their computers for surveillance tools.

Amnesty International said Detekt is the first freely available tool that allows people to find out if their devices are being monitored without their knowledge.

The software can detect bugs designed to monitor Skype conversations and gives users the opportunity to take necessary precautions to protect themselves against surveillance.

The programme was developed by security researcher Claudio Guarnieri and was launched in conjunction with NGOs Digitale Gesellschaft, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International.

Marek Marczynski, head of military, security and police at Amnesty International, said governments around the world are using "cowardly methods" to keep human rights abuses disclosed.

"Governments are increasingly using dangerous and sophisticated technology that allows them to read activists' and journalists' private emails and remotely turn on their computer's camera or microphone to secretly record their activities," he said.

"They use the technology in a cowardly attempt to prevent abuses from being exposed. Detekt is a simple tool that will alert activists to such intrusions so they can take action."

According to the Coalition Against Unlawful Surveillance Exports, the annual trade in surveillance technologies is worth more than £3bn and growing.

Amnesty International wants governments to establish strict trade controls that require national authorities to assess the human rights threat of surveillance equipment before authorising any transfer.

"The surveillance technology market is out of control," Marczynski added. "We desperately need strong legal regulations to bring it in line with human rights standards.

"The negative consequences and dangers of the uncontrolled use of these powerful technologies are enormous and they need to be controlled.

"Detekt is a great tool which can help activists stay safe, but ultimately the only way to prevent these technologies from being used to violate or abuse human rights is to establish and enforce strict controls on their use and trade.

"It represents a strike back against governments who are using information obtained through surveillance to arbitrarily detain, illegally arrest and even torture human rights defenders and journalists."