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Report shows FG purchased surveillance equipment to spy on calls, messages of citizens


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A new report by Citizen Lab has shown that the Nigerian government purchased surveillance equipment to spy on the mobile calls and short message service (SMS) of Nigerians.

The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, focusing on research, development, and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security.

It investigates digital espionage against civil society, documents internet filtering and other technologies and practices that impact freedom of expression online, analyzes privacy, security, and information controls of popular applications, and examines transparency and accountability mechanisms relevant to the relationship between corporations and state agencies regarding personal data and other surveillance activities.

In the report, titled “Running in Circles: Uncovering the Clients of Cyberespionage Firm Circles,” the Nigeria Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other unspecified entity in Nigeria had acquired the equipment from Circles, a cybersecurity company founded by an Israeli with affiliation with the NSO groups to exploit flaws in telecommunications systems and to access calls, SMS and location services.

“Our scanning identified two Circles systems in Nigeria. One system may be operated by the same entity as one of the Nigerian customers of the FinFisher spyware that we detected in December 2014.

“The firewall IPs are in the same /27 as the IP address of the FinFisher C&C server we detected in our 2014 scans (41.242.50.50). The other client appears to be the Nigerian Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), as its firewall IPs are in AS37258, a block of IP addresses registered to “HQ Defence Intelligence Agency Asokoro, Nigeria, Abuja.”

In 2016, Premium Times had reported that two former Nigerian governors of Bayelsa and Delta states, purchased systems from Circles to spy on their political opponents. In Delta State, Premium Times reports that the system was installed at the “governor’s lodge,” and operated by employees of the governor, rather than police.

In Bayelsa State, the governor reportedly used the Circles system to spy on his opponent in an election, as well as his opponent’s wife and aides. The investigation also found that the two Circles systems were imported without the proper authorizations from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser.

The report added that members of civil society in Nigeria face a wide range of digital threats.

A recent report by Front Line Defenders concluded that Nigeria’s government “has conducted mass surveillance of citizens’ telecommunications.” The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also reported multiple cases of the Nigerian government abusing phone surveillance.

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