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.
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.