Corporations increasingly spying on nonprofits, group says

French actress Marion Cotillard stands with Greenpeace activists earlier this month in Paris.
(Fred Dufour / Getty Images )

Corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups they view as potential threats with little fear of retribution, according to a new report by a corporate watchdog group.

The large companies employ former Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, FBI, military and police officers to monitor and in some cases infiltrate groups that have been critical of them, according to the report by Essential Information, which was founded by Ralph Nader in the 1980s.

“Many different types of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing-home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups,” the report said.

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The spying is problematic because some investigators violate laws -- a French utility was fined about $2 million in 2011 for hacking the computers of Greenpeace France -- while chilling groups that stand up for consumers, the report said.

“Corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations is an egregious abuse of corporate power that is subverting democracy,” said Gary Ruskin, the report’s author. “Who will rein in the forces of corporate lawlessness as they bear down upon nonprofit defenders of justice?”

Corporations and their trade associations have been linked to a wide variety of espionage tactics against nonprofit organizations, including posing as volunteers or journalists to obtain information about nonprofits’ activities, the report said.

“Many of these tactics are either highly unethical or illegal,” the report said.

Essential Information is a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes corporate accountability.

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