DC court rules hacking victims can't sue foreign governments

By William Gayde
Mar 15, 2017
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  1. An Ethiopian dissident going by the name of Kidane has been trying to sue the Ethiopian government ever since they tricked him into downloading a spyware program. The hack took place while he was in the United States, but a DC court of appeals agreed to dismiss the suit this week.

    Kidane was born in Ethiopia but has since become an American citizen. Back near the end of 2012 he opened a seemingly benign email from an acquaintance that happened to contain an attachment. It turns out that the Ethiopian government had actually sent or forwarded the email. The attachment contained the FinSpy program; spyware that is sold exclusively to government agencies by controversial software company FinFisher.

    Normally foreign governments are immune from lawsuits like this, but Kidane and his lawyers applied a special exception called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Unfortunately for Kidane, the court denied this request on the grounds that the hack didn't take place entirely in the US. Since the email was sent from Ethiopia, the FSIA exception does not apply.

    Kidane's team and privacy advocates around the country are worried about a dangerous precedent being set in this case. Foreign governments can hack US citizens without worrying about potential lawsuits. The Electronic Frontier Foundation saw this case as the best chance to challenge government spyware use, but was disappointed by the ruling.

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  2. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,681   +1,080

    But if it was Russia or China it would probably be a different story.
    alabama man and Uncle Al like this.
  3. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 747   +357

    Probably not actually. There would be massive political blow back if we opened them up to lawsuits - we're charging their hackers with crimes already, knowing they won't ever be tried or convicted. Suing a govt. like Ethiopia will pretty much be the only chance to set precedent.
    alabama man likes this.
  4. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 3,329   +1,976

    No probably about it, we have people here that are already engaged in that battle and the courts are allowing it!

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