Addis Ababa — A new report from Human Rights Watch says Ethiopia is using some of the world's most advanced surveillance software to monitor communications from Ethiopians at home and abroad.
Human Rights Watch says that the Ethiopian government is spying on its citizens and monitoring the activities of Ethiopians in the diaspora by using high tech software from China, Italy and Germany.
Felix Horne is the Horn of Africa researcher with the international human rights organization. He says the Ethiopian government has unlimited access to records of phone calls and emails of Ethiopians at home and abroad:
"Inside Ethiopia, its control of its Chinese developed telecom system results in having unfettered access to phone records and metadata of all phone calls in the country," he said. "Outside the country, they are using western-made technology to target the activities of very specific members of the diaspora. These technologies are being provided by a company in Italy, called HackingTeam and a company in Germany called Gamma."
Ethiopia's telecommunication is monopolized by the state-owned Ethio Telecom. A sim card can only be obtained in Ethiopia after registering personal details, making it easy for the government to identify domestic callers, according to Human Rights Watch.
A U.S. citizen of Ethiopian origin filed a lawsuit against the Ethiopian government last month, saying his computer had been hacked and he had been spied on for more than four months.
Horne says that certain ethnic groups feel particularly at risk when answering phone calls from abroad.
He says, "One of the things that we found in our research is that individuals that receive phone calls from abroad are often targeted and accused of talking to banned organizations or of plotting something against the government, despite there being little evidence to that effect."
Getachew Redda, an adviser to Ethiopia's prime minister, denies the Human Rights Watch report. He says the group has "made it a habit to accuse Ethiopia of almost everything that goes wrong in the region" and it has a "negative knee-jerk reaction about any developments in the country."
He adds that the government "would not waste resources in eavesdropping conversations of opposition figures" and that the accusations are "pure hogwash.