A Maryland man is suing the Ethiopian government after it was discovered that it infected his computer with spyware, wiretapped his calls made via Skype, and monitored his family’s computers for months.
"We have clear evidence of a foreign government secretly infiltrating an American's computer in America, listening to his calls, and obtaining access to a wide swath of his private life," said Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Nate Cardozo. "The current Ethiopian government has a well-documented history of human rights violations against anyone it sees as political opponents. Here, it wiretapped a United States citizen on United States soil in an apparent attempt to obtain information about members of the Ethiopian diaspora who have been critical of their former government. U.S. laws protect Americans from this type of unauthorized electronic spying, regardless of who is responsible."
This case is part of a larger operation by the Ethiopian government to spy on people it believes are political opponents. The man, who goes by Mr. Kidane in order to protect his family, reportedly opened a Microsoft Word document that was sent to him, and upon opening the document, his computer became infected.
“I would be extremely hesitant to continue to seek legal redress in this case should I be denied this request to proceed pseudonymously, as I fear the litigation would put my life and the lives of my family at substantial risk,” said Mr. Kidane. The man, who is originally from Ethiopia, won political asylum 22 years ago and has lived in Silver Spring, Md., ever since.
"The problem of governments violating the privacy of their political opponents through digital surveillance is not isolated – it's already big and growing bigger," said Electronic Frontier Foundation Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Yet despite the international intrigue and genuine danger involved in this lawsuit, at bottom it's a straightforward case. An American citizen was wiretapped at his home in Maryland, and he's asking for his day in court under longstanding American laws."
Reports claim that Ethiopia is not alone in spying on the activity of perceived opponents to its government.