Yesterday Privacy International (PI) filed a criminal complaint with the UK National Cyber Crime Unit, asking them to investigate the targeting of three UK-based Bahrainis with Gamma International’s FinFisher computer spyware. The complaint was based on a Bahrain Watch analysis of leaked communications between Gamma and the Bahraini Government, which revealed that the Government had hacked at least 77 computers, including those belonging to opposition party leaders, and a top Bahraini lawfirm.
Bahrain Watch urges British police to investigate this serious intrusion, as it may have exposed activists in Bahrain to the risk of arrest and torture. Other surveillance targets that we identified in our analysis should consider legal action to protect their privacy.
Bahrain Watch is proud of its continuing partnership with PI on advocacy issues. This is the third legal case filed by PI on behalf of Bahraini victims of illegal government espionage, leveraging Bahrain Watch research. Last year, together with Bahrain Watch and other NGOs, PI filed a complaint against Gamma with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Earlier this year, PI won a case at the High Court against the UK’s HMRC, on behalf of Bahrain Watch member Ala’a Shehabi.
Bahrain Watch continues to monitor digital surveillance in Bahrain, and publishes the results in its Spy Watch project. In addition to using computer spyware, Bahrain’s Government also attempts to unmask its critics by sending malicious “IP spy” links to anonymous online accounts. Activists can defend against IP spy links by following our digital security advice here. If you have specific questions or concerns about your digital safety please contact:
Press roundup of legal action:
“These companies are making blood money off the fact that they are selling pernicious technology that has extraordinary capabilities to states they know are repressive, human-rights-abusing states. They can’t put that kind of technological capacity in the hands of these states and then … act surprised when states like Bahrain then go after individuals like Moosa, Saeed, and Jaafar and perpetrate the kind of extraterritorial repression that they’re doing here in the UK.”
“Privacy International argues that Gamma is complicit in the Bahraini government’s violation of British surveillance laws.”
The Independent: Bahrain ‘spied on political activists living in the UK’
“Without lawful authorisation it is an offence under English law to access another person’s computer and intercept communication or data”
“We often had the feeling that they were spying on us but we had no physical evidence of intrusion,” said Shehabi, 60, who is a journalist. “I have lived here since 1971. I thought I was under British protection.”
“Ali told me he was surprised to find out he had been under surveillance. He thought he was protected in the UK, away from the government that had targeted him years earlier. But here was evidence that it could still be watching him, over 3,000 miles away.”
“Privacy International’s complaint is the latest in a series of allegations of cross-border hacking by repressive governments. Similar action has been taken on behalf of Ethiopian refugees living in Britain and the United States.”
“[Finfisher] then allows all of their computer activities to be accessed remotely – whether it is emails, Skype conversations or social media passwords. It even enables a laptop’s camera to be remotely switched on, so that video and sound can be recorded from a room where the laptop is being used.”