Saudi Arabia used Israeli phone hacking technology


Blitz News Desk

The Saudi government allegedly used Israeli phone-hacking technology to spy on an outspoken dissident and political activist. Canadian permanent resident Abdulaziz has been outspoken on an ongoing diplomatic feud over human rights issues between Canada and Saudi Arabia. The targeting occurred while Abdulaziz, who received asylum in Canada, was attending university in Quebec. Further details on this matter was published in Citizenlab website.

The Herzliya-based NSO Group developed the controversial Pegasus spyware program, which turns smartphones into listening devices.

Toronto-based Citizen Lab says it has “high confidence” that the Israeli technology was used to spy on 27-year-old Omar Abdulaziz, an outspoken Saudi dissident who sought asylum in Canada.

The NSO Group has insisted in the past that it sells its software to clients on the condition that it be used only against crime and terrorism, and has denied it bears responsibility in cases where it was allegedly used for civil rights abuses by governments.

For example, in 2017, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said he wants a rapid investigation into reports of high-tech spying against journalists and human rights defenders in his country, while he dismissed allegations that his government was responsible.

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog group, said that spyware called Pegasus produced by Israel’s NSO Group was used to target the cellphones of people who were investigating or critical of Mexico’s government. It said there was no conclusive proof of government involvement, but noted that the software was sold only to governments and that the detected targets were all investigating or critical of the government.

Carlos Loret de Mola, who hosts a news program on the Televisa network and was one of those targeted by the software, slapped his forehead in disbelief in a video that he posted to his Facebook page.

John Scott Railton of Citizen Lab said during a presentation of his research that the software turns a cellphone into a spy with the ability to remotely activate its microphone and camera as well as access everything that is stored on it.

Citizen Lab said it had “no conclusive evidence attributing these messages to specific government agencies in Mexico. However, circumstantial evidence suggests that one or more … of NSO’s government customers in Mexico are the likely operators.”

The Centro Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, a prominent human rights group that has investigated a number of high-profile human rights cases and said its staff members were targeted, was incredulous at the president’s remarks.

In a statement late Thursday, it called for an independent investigation by experts. It said that by dismissing and diminishing the significance of the spying and threatening those who reported it, “President Pena Nieto has shown that he will not be capable of investigating himself.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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