Tech & Rights

State Hacking Takes Top Prize at Belgium Big Brother Awards

State-sponsored hacking wins the Jury Prize and the ANPR cameras wins the Audience Prize of the 2017 Big Brother Awards.

by David Morelli

The 2017 edition of the Belgian 'Big Brother' Awards, organized by Liga voor Mensenrechten (LVM), just revealed its winners. The Jury Prize went to 'State hacking', the increasing tendency of EU members states to develop and use a malware in order to snoop on their own citizens. This malicious software is installed on the electronic device of a suspect, such as his or her cellphone, computer or tablet, in order to access all his or her messages, photos, videos and other personal data. In other words, this tendency legalized the most intrusive form of espionage carried out by the government.

Dangers of state hacking

As EDRi (European Digital Rights) pointed out in its note nominating state hacking for the prize, the use of security loopholes in computer programs aimed at reducing cyber-criminality is creating, paradoxically, more insecurity by making "our personal data more vulnerable to all cyber-attacks".

The Audience Prize was given to the ANPR Cameras (Automatic number plate recognition), which was nominated by the DataPanki Platform:

"Under the pretext of fighting terrorism, organized crime and road traffic, a 'high-tech spider web' is being weaved, offering unprecedented opportunities to track each citizen individually. It’s not only about our security: many other data are being collected. Through real-time monitoring and filtering, a total control of our movement is imminent […] All is happening as if it was the most natural thing in the world, without any significant public discussion and with a legislation which is traditionally lagging behind on theses issues".

Investigation law nominated

As for Liberties member the League of Human Rights, the Belgian organisation had nominated the country's law on special investigation methods. This law changes the applicable legal framework and incorporate new Police investigation and data collection techniques. At the very least, this law clarifies the legal framework and offers useful tools to police forces in order to fight terrorism.

However, the law also raises concerns. Firstly, regarding privacy, it undermines the traditional safeguards regime which guarantees the proportionality of the procedures of the Code of Criminal Instruction. Secondly, regarding the separation of powers, the new law increases the shift of powers of the investigative judge (who is responsible for the independent control of exculpatory and incriminatory materials) towards the public prosecutor (who does not have such guarantees of independence).

Read more about the 2017 edition of the Big Brother Awards and the other nominees here, and watch a video of the ceremony here.