FinFisher Servers
A map of the FinFisher servers around the globe which are now found in 36 countries including the UK and US. (Credit: Citizen Lab)

Rights group Privacy International has filed a criminal complaint on behalf of three Bahraini activists who were allegedly spied on in the UK by Bahraini authorities using British surveillance technology.

An investigation by Bahrain Watch, a monitoring group, revealed that Moosa Abd-Ali Ali, Jaafar al-Hasabi and Saeed al-Shehabi, three activists who took asylum in the UK, were all spied upon using FinFisher, sophisticated government software produced by UK-based Gamma International.

FinFisher is used by many countries such as Bahrain, Ethiopia, Egypt and Turkmenistan to monitor dissidents, journalists and human rights activists. It is sold as "governmental IT intrusion and remote monitoring solutions" and operates in at least 36 countries according to a Citizen Lab report.

Once the user installs the spyware, "victims' computers and mobile devices can be taken over, the cameras and microphones remotely switched on, emails, instant messengers and voice calls (including Skype) monitored, and locations tracked".

The export of a UK-based spyware to repressive regimes has been a matter of controversy in recent months.

Following repeated refusal from the HMRC to reveal whether it was investigating Gamma International's exports, a British court ruled that the body responsible for enforcing export regulations acted "unlawfully and irrationally".

Leaked documents from Gamma allegedly brought new evidence that it illegally exported the malicious spyware to Bahrain to target lawyers, human rights activists and politicians.

The fresh data show that Gamma International's FinFisher surveillance technology was installed on 77 computers in a period that stretches between 2010 and 2012, during Bahrain's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

It also apparently contradicts earlier claims by Gamma that it does not do business with Bahrain and "added to the growing body of evidence suggesting that Gamma may have violated UK export laws on surveillance technology" according to Bahrain Watch monitoring group.

The complaint has been filed to the National Cyber Crime Unit of the National Crime Agency (NCA) for "unlawful interception of communications" under UK's Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (RIPA) 2000.