A tool to know if you're being watched

Want to know if someone is spying on your computer?

A coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups this week released a free tool, dubbed Detekt, that searches for surveillance spyware on your computer.

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The spyware might be collecting emails, listening to Skype video calls, observing through a computer camera, or even monitoring keystrokes to determine passwords and Internet activity.

Designed for journalists and human rights organizations — the subject of intense government scrutiny in many countries — the tool works for anyone with a Windows computer.

Since government leaker Edward Snowden disclosed the existence of numerous U.S. and international spy programs that collected data on individuals' calls, emails and Internet activity, there has been a boom in the desire to protect electronic devices from government snooping.

“We have witnessed a huge growth in the adoption and trade in communication surveillance technologies,” said the groups, including Amnesty International, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Privacy International and German civil rights group Digitale Gesellschaft.

“There is little to no regulation currently in place to safeguard against these technologies being sold or used by repressive governments or others who are likely to use them for serious human rights violations and abuses,” they said.

EFF was also behind a recently launched nonprofit, Let’s Encrypt, which will offer free encryption services to any website.

The goals are the same — ensure the right to privacy online.

It’s not simple, acknowledged EFF Global Policy Analyst Eva Galperin in a blog post on Detekt. Surveillance technology is designed to evade detection and circumvent encryption.

“Detekt makes it easy for at-risk users to check their PCs for possible infection by this spyware, which often goes undetected by existing commercial anti-virus products,” she said.

FBI Director James Comey has expressed concern about the growing desire to fully detect and block government access to all data. In a speech this week, he called it “the going dark problem.”

“Time after time in this country when we have lawful authority to intercept the communications of bad guys where we have shown to a judge probable cause … we can’t execute that order,” he told the Overseas Security Advisory Council on Wednesday.  

“I worry about creating zones that are above the law,” he added.