What is targeted surveillance?  

For many of us, that unsettling feeling of being watched is all too real. After all, we live in a world of mass surveillance, from facial recognition to online tracking – governments and technology companies are harvesting intimate information about billions of people. Targeted surveillance is slightly different. It’s the use of technology to spy on specific people.  
Targeted surveillance can include the use of hidden cameras, recording devices, or being physically followed or monitored. Here at Amnesty’s Security Lab, we focus on uncovering targeted digital surveillance including spyware, phishing and other digital attack techniques.  
Governments across the world are buying and allowing the sale of advanced highly invasive spyware that can compromise anybody’s digital devices and monitor their activity. These tools are made and sold by private companies who are profiting from human right abuses.  
Governments and companies say that these surveillance tools are necessary to target ‘criminals and terrorists’. But in reality, scores of human rights defenders, journalists and many others – including Amnesty International staff members – have instead been unlawfully targeted with spyware.  

How do we work? 

Our human rights
experts and technologists
carry out research into
the surveillance industry and human rights violations by governments.
We use our analysis to influence and press governments, companies and decision-makers to do the right thing.
Our campaigners and supporters worldwide press for action from the people and institutions who can make change happen.

What are we calling for? 

Governments are obligated under international law not only to respect human rights, but also to protect people from abuses by third parties such as private companies. For years, we have been working on holding both governments and the surveillance industry to account.

Our campaigning currently focuses on two global calls:

Surveillance is a social justice issue

Unlawful targeted surveillance affects different people in different ways.

While surveillance and other forms of digital repression impact civil society all around the world, the harms are different, and more grievous, for those from marginalised and oppressed groups.  

For example, personal information collected from spyware attacks on women can be weaponised in particular ways – through online harassment, leaking of sensitive information, cyberstalking and doxing. This can extend to offline abuse, such as blackmail, smear campaigns, intimidation, and threats of violence. The harms are exacerbated in countries with discriminatory practices and laws against women, or when women face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, such as racialized women, women from ethnic or religious minorities, LGBT women, and women with disabilities.  

We all know that privacy matters. Our private thoughts, texts, friendships, social interactions make up who we are. But spyware abuse is about more than personal privacy – It’s about social justice.

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