A DC Circuit Court for the U.S. Court of Appeals today heard arguments on a wiretapping case brought against the Ethiopian regime by an Ethiopian American in Maryland.
Few years ago, the Ethiopian regime had infected the computer of Mr. Kidane with secret spyware, wiretapping his private Skype calls, and monitoring his entire family’s every use of the computer for a period of months.
With the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Citizen Lab, Mr. Kidane found that the Ethiopian regime used a notorious surveillance malware known as FinSpy, illegally wiretapped and invaded the privacy of Mr. Kidane, a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, according to a statement by EFF.
The malware took over Mr. Kidane’s computer and secretly sent copies of his activities, including Skype calls, web searches and indications of websites visited and other activity, to the Ethiopian spy agency.
Mr. Kidane, is a pseudonym that he preferred to use for his privacy and that of his family. Mr. Kidane, a critic of a tyrannical regime back in his home country, brought suit against the regime in 2014, but the federal court held that no foreign government could be held accountable for wiretapping an American citizen in his own home, so Kidane appealed to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
According to Nate Cardozo, Staff Attorney for the EFF, who followed the court hearing, the lawyer representing the Ethiopian government argued that foreign governments are “free to commit illegal acts in the U.S. so long as they do them by remote control.”
“The Ethiopian government argued today that if they had sent a mail bomb to Mr. Kidane from Ethiopia, that would have been perfectly legal. They argued that if Mr. Kidane had a self driving car and they hacked into it and made it drive off the bridge, that would have been perfectly legal,” Cardozo said.
Cardozo thinks the argument by the lawyer representing the Ethiopian regime is “absurd.”
Richard Martinez, representing Mr. Kidane argued on the other hand that “remote control doesn’t matter.” According to Cardozo, Martinez argued today at the Court of Appeals that “the Ethiopian government acted in the U.S. using software instead of using a human being and that distinction has no relevance in the law.”
Lawyers representing Mr. Kidane also invoke the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford on October 21, 1976, that provides the exclusive basis and means to bring a lawsuit against a foreign sovereign in the United States.
The United States Department of State and rights groups have been documenting mounting evidences that the Ethiopian regime use electronic surveillance against opponents and critical media both at home and abroad. The Ethiopian Satellite Radio and Television has been one of its targets.
The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals could take anywhere from one month to six months, it was learnt.