Man accuses Ethiopian officials of infecting him with FinSpy; US dismisses case

An Ethiopian man living in asylum in the US since the early 90s wanted to file a civil lawsuit against the Republic of Ethiopia, accusing the country of spying on him through his family computer.

Under the pseudonym “Kidane,” the appellant, now a US citizen, claims he was deceived into downloading a malicious program that authorized the Ethiopian government to spy on him. The program was in an attachment forwarded to him by a sender allegedly on behalf of Ethiopia.

The man said his computer was infected with FinSpy “a system for monitoring and gathering information from electronic devices, including computers and mobile phones, without the knowledge of the device’s user” and “sold exclusively to government agencies.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the case because the activity was actually started and conducted outside the US on an Ethiopian server so, in order to pursue it, they would have to abrogate Ethiopia’s immunity.

Kidane invoked the case as an exception for noncommercial torts to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

“The noncommercial-tort exception abrogates sovereign immunity for a tort occurring entirely in the United States,” the court ruled. “Kidane, by contrast, alleges a transnational tort. We therefore affirm the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”,” the court ruled.

In response to the ruling, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Kidane’s representative, said “that foreign governments are free to spy on, injure, or even kill Americans in their own homes–so long as they do so by remote control.”

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