Used to Convict Bahraini Activist Who Underwent Torture
Cellebrite’s Universal Forensic Extraction Device (UFED) is designed to retrieve chat logs, texts, and other data from phones, in some cases bypassing PIN codes or passwords.
A new joint investigation published today by Bahrain Watch and The Intercept presents evidence that Bahraini authorities have used forensics technology produced by Israel-based company Cellebrite to extract private conversations and information from a political activist’s mobile phone who was tortured in custody and sentenced to 5 years in prison. The Bahraini case is the first example of how oppressive governments can exploit and misuse Cellebrite technology against political opponents. The report reveals legal documents, that were presented by Bahrain’s Public Prosecution in a case against human rights activist Abdali Al Singace. Singace was reportedly tortured in custody during the same period in which the Bahraini prosecution presented the Whatsapp transcripts from his phone seemingly extracted using Cellebrite’s UFED device.
“This is just the latest in a series of findings by Bahrain Watch which demonstrate how high profile international technology companies have no qualms about doing business with governments that have a documented track record of torture such as the government of Bahrain,” said Bill Marczak of Bahrain Watch. “The international community needs to do more to pressure technology companies and to hold them to account to behave responsibly, especially when it comes to sensitive surveillance technology.”
Cellebrite gained notoriety earlier this year when it was rumored to have facilitated the FBI in cracking the iPhone used in the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. Vice President of Business Development and Forensics Yuval Ben-Moshe said that the company operates under international law and refused to tell the BBC whether Cellebrite supplies oppressive regimes with its technology. “I don’t know the answer to that and I’m in no position to comment on that.”
The increasing use of surveillance technology for authoritarian practices is alarming especially in states where human rights violations and misuse of technology to spy on human rights defenders are well documented.