Bahrain dictatorship’s British spyware, update


This video from the USA is called Finspy Hijacks Activists’ Computers – Are You Being Monitored?

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

UK company’s spyware ‘used against Bahrain activist’, court papers claim

Human rights groups hope email evidence can force review of export controls on surveillance equipment

Jamie Doward

Sunday 12 May 2013

Spy technology from a UK-based company was used to target a British citizen who became a leading light in Bahrain’s Arab spring, according to documents filed in the high court.

The witness statement of Dr Ala’a Shehabi is seen by human rights groups as crucial in their attempt to force the government to examine the export of surveillance equipment.

They want to secure a judicial review of the government’s alleged failure to provide them with information on what action it is taking to establish whether the sale of the technology to repressive regimes is in breach of export-licence controls.

Shehabi, who studed at Imperial College London, and has both Bahraini and British citizenship, is one of the founding members of Bahrain Watch, set up following the country’s security crackdown in February 2011. Her father is the leader of the Bahrain Freedom Movement. Following the crackdown her husband was arrested and jailed having, she claims, been beaten. He was freed last year. Shehabi herself was arrested in April 2012, during the Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain. She was later released.

According to her witness statement, a few weeks after her arrest Shehabi received a series of emails, the first purportedly from Kahil Marzou who was the deputy head of Bahrain’s main opposition party, including one containing a virus. Other emails that claimed to be from an Al Jazeera journalist were also infected. Research found that the emails contained a product called FinSpy, distributed by a British company, Gamma International.

The witness statement claims that when a person’s computer is infected with FinSpy, “it allows access to emails, social media messaging, and Skype calls, as well as copying the files saved on the hard disk. These products also enable whoever is doing the targeting to commandeer and remotely operate microphones and cameras on computers and mobile phones.”

Shehabi, who has been forced to relocate to Britain, states: “I have real concerns about the Bahrainian regime having effective unfettered access to my computer, reading my emails and monitoring my calls. Not only is this a gross invasion of my privacy, I am concerned that it could put in danger from the Bahraini authorities myself, my family members and other activists.”

Last November, the campaign group Privacy International provided a dossier of evidence against Gamma International to HM Revenue and Customs, urging it to investigate whether there had been any breach of the export control regime.

According to Privacy International, Gamma’s technology has been deployed by secret police in 25 countries, many with a history of human rights abuses. The campaign group warns: “This is part of a growing global trend, where human rights defenders, political dissidents and other vulnerable groups around the world are being targeted by increasingly sophisticated state surveillance.”

Gamma’s managing director in Germany, Martin J Muench, did not respond to requests for comment. …

Shehabi’s witness statement provides vivid testimony of the effects she claims the secret surveillance of her computer system has had on her mental health. “I found it very disturbing that an attempt was being made to spy on me through this medium,” she explains. “It upset me a lot, scared me and made me feel quite paranoid. I am very concerned that it appears that a product of a British company is being exported in breach of export controls to be used to attempt to spy on pro-democracy activists such as myself.”

Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, said the government needed to come clean on whether it was permitting surveillance technology to be exported.

“It is critical we understand what if anything it is doing to hold Gamma to account,” King said.

See also here.

Thousands in Bahrain protest against torture: here.

17 thoughts on “Bahrain dictatorship’s British spyware, update

  1. IANS | Dubai May 13, 2013 Last Updated at 18:27 IST

    Indian man, daughter in Bahrain forced to live out in the open

    An expatriate Indian man and his three-year-old daughter in Bahrain have been forced to rough it out in the open for the last six months after a business deal went sour.

    A desperate Mohammad Sikandar Samrat and his daughter Sara have been living in a park, mosque and car since November 2012 as his daughter does not have a passport and he is yet to get 65,000 Bahraini dinars owed to him by a Bahraini businessman, the Gulf Daily News reported Monday.

    The father-daughter duo was forced out in the open after his wife and their youngest daughter left for India in November last year.

    “This has been going on for the last six months when I was forced to send my family home after I could no longer cope,” Samrat told the newspaper in a Manama park where the two are currently taking shelter. His wife is a qualified nurse.

    Though he has a small one-room apartment in Manama, he said it was impossible to stay there as there was no water or electricity.

    According to Samrat, he was doing well running a small business for the Bahraini businessman getting marble and stone supplies from India for land reclamation projects.

    However, all that changed in 2009.

    “When I went to the gentleman to ask for money, he gave me seven cheques worth BD40,000 – all of which bounced,” Samrat was quoted as saying.

    “He promised to pay me the money in instalments, but that never happened as well. Numerous visits to his office also yielded nothing.”

    He said he and his daughter spent very little time in his apartment and go to a mosque at 3 a.m when it opens and then spend the rest of the time in the park and a friend’s car.

    He also owed his landlord 1,000 Bahraini dinars but he said the latter was kind and has not put pressure on him.

    The father and the daughter are surviving on a diet of khubuz or Arabic bread and chickpeas.

    He said he could not apply for Sara’s passport when she was born in July 2010 because he did not have any money then.

    Now, he said, he has done all the paperwork for her passport.

    “The (Indian) embassy has told me they need special permission from India to issue a passport since she is more than one year old,” he said.

    When contacted, an official in the embassy told the newspaper everything would be done to help the stranded Indian duo.

    Samrat has also moved court against the defaulting businessman filing a criminal case.

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